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Dr Duncan

World Cancer Day

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Cancer appears to be the disease of our times, with a constant stream of media stories on people who are suffering with it, stories that report of "breakthrough" discoveries about it, and stories of "miraculous cures" from it. But there are a couple of things wrong with how we view cancer: and the biggest one is the word itself!
 
Cancer brings with it a certain dread, and yet the word cancer actually comes from a Latin word that means "Crab" and was first used way back before the dawn of the Christian Era to describe the way cancer appears to send finger like projections into the surrounding tissues. And we must remember that this "crab word" isn't just one disease but a collection of over 200 different diseases affecting various parts of the body in very different ways.
 
The second thing about our conception of cancer is that it is a disease of modern times, in fact cancer has been around since the dawn of history. The first recorded writings about cancer are to be found on ancient Egyptian Papyrus which described eight cases of breast cancer, and which date to around 3,000BCE. Over the subsequent millennia much has been written on the subject although the approach to dealing with the disease didn't alter for around 1,400 years. It wasn't until the Middle Ages when bodily dissections became more acceptable, plus the invention of the microscope which allowed scientists to actually see what was happening inside the diseased tissues, that the idea of cancer being caused "by the gods" or spread as a contagion were gradually disproved.
 
Looking back at the history of our understanding of cancer, and despite the massive increases in our knowledge of the various diseases that are covered by our "crabby descriptor", I suspect that most of us still have a lingering fear of the very word itself, and that's an extra burden that any newly diagnosed sufferer does not need when they start off on a course of investigation and treatment. So if there is only one thing that you remember today, please understand that cancer is a "Crabby" name and doesn't tell you anything about the disease itself. For anyone who has just been diagnosed with a "crabby disease", what you need to know is how it's going to affect YOU, and what is the line of treatment that is going to help YOU - and in the 21st century these types of treatment will be tailored to your needs so that you get the best outcome.
 
But back to history: one of the major advances in medicine happened in the19th century and that was the introduction of Anaesthesia. Up until that time surgeons had to work at great speed whilst the poor patient was held down by several strong onlookers! In our modern times, anaesthetic techniques combined with increasing robotic surgery have allowed Doctors to cause minimal damage as they remove diseased tissues thus allowing the patient to recover faster with fewer side-effects.
 
But in the last few decades our increased understanding of how these various cancers start and then spread has given great insight into the overall disease process and opened up a whole new way of managing them. In times past the Doctor could only deal with what he could see or touch, now with the aid of modern electronics and imaging devices, scientists are being given a glimpse into the secrets of life contained within our very own DNA - and this has proven to be a vast and fascinating field. With this new knowledge has come an awareness that not only are our healthy human cells unique with their own DNA, but our "Cancer" cells are also have their own unique DNA and therefore they demand "Unique" treatments to efficiently control them! Whilst only 20 years ago Doctors and researchers were looking for a magic bullet to cure cancer, we have now moved to the stage where we can more confidently look towards a whole strategy of treatments to help control individual cancers, in a similar way to which we control high blood pressure, arthritis or any chronic health problem.
 
But we still have a long way to go and unfortunately nothing is going to happen overnight, despite frequent media reports of "Breakthroughs" and new discoveries. However, there is one huge area where we can all have a big impact on our individual chances of developing a cancer, and again, history gives us a clue. In 1775, Percival Pott of Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital in London described an occupational cancer in chimney sweeps, cancer of the scrotum, which was caused by soot collecting in the skin folds of the scrotum. This early reporting of an environmentally induced cancer was one of the first showing how cancer can be linked to "Life-style".
 
Later on in 1964 the Surgeon General in the US reported on the link between tobacco smoke and lung cancer and hopefully, with time, smokers will become as rare as chimney sweeps are today! Cigarette smoking, obesity, alcohol and UV radiation all increase our risk of developing a "crabby disease" and if we take that warning seriously then we can avoid months to years of ongoing medical treatments and hospitalisations.
We have made huge strides in the last few decades and yet there is still so much to do! I know that Doctors and Scientists will continue to strive for better treatments each and every day, and I think it behoves us all to do the same by living healthy, active lives.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. For more articles by Dr. Duncan, click here. For more information on healthcare and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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