A very ill looking man shows up at his local hospital with severe weight loss, yellow eyes, loss of appetite, a distended belly and severe abdominal pain. His worried wife says that he’s been sick for the past one year but has worsened significantly in the last 3 months. After extensive tests, the doctor breaks the news “Sir, you have Liver cancer”.

Did you know that most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occur throughout a person’s lifetime? These genetic changes are triggered by various factors:

  • Inherited genes from parents or the natural result of aging
  • Exposure to environmental factors such as pollution, ultraviolet light, and radon gas
  • Exposure to infectious agents such as Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Medical treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, hormone drugs, and drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, what kind of food you eat, how much you eat, and whether you exercise, may also influence your risk of developing cancer.

The rate of cancer has doubled in the last 20 years in Africa, with cervical, breast, liver and prostate cancers being most commonly diagnosed cancers. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest incidence worldwide of cervical cancer deaths. (Click here on previous post on cervical cancer).

Screening tests such as a breast mammogram or cervical pap test can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear and when it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread making it harder to treat or cure.


What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?

The signs and symptoms of cancer will depend on where the cancer is and the organ affected. If a cancer has spread, signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.

As a cancer grows, it can begin to push on or damage nearby organs, blood vessels, and nerves. This pressure and /or damage causes some of the signs and symptoms of cancer.

General signs and symptoms of cancer include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Skin changes – darker looking skin, yellow skin and eyes, reddened skin, itching

You can make lifestyle changes that can modify some cancer risk factors.

  • Eat a better diet, including reducing salt, less fatty foods, more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods.
  • Regular exercise – at least 30 minutes a day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
  • If you drink, limit alcohol
  • Practice safe sex (condom use; commitment to one partner)