Fighting cancer with diet, nutrition

About 9.6 million people die from cancer every year and about 70 per cent of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries. This report by APPOLONIA ADEYEMI with (Agency Report), highlights the role diet and nutrition plays in the prevention of cancers


Cancer Survivor, Bosun Rufai, has advised Nigerians to continue to be watchful of their nutritional habits and exposure to the environment as part of the ways to guard against cancers.

Rufai, an Engineer, said that everyone has the tendency to develop cancer cells, hence the need to be cautious.

He spoke as the world marked the 2020 World Cancer Day on Tuesday with the theme as:  “I Can, We Can”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that cancer was a large group of diseases that can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably.

“Go beyond their usual boundaries to invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs.”

According to WHO, the theme “acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to address the cancer burden.

“We can work together to reduce cancer risk factors. We can overcome barriers to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care.’’

Rufai, who is in his 10th year as a cancer survivor, said: “The growth of cancer cells are enhanced by intake of sugar particularly.

“Our nutrition should be plant-based, fruits and vegetables mostly. Avoid animal-based meals and poultry products,’’ he said.

According to him, positive lifestyle change, regular physical exercise and clean air devoid of dust pollution were also advised for prevention and survival of cancer too.

“Nutrition and lifestyle change have huge roles to play. Since I finished my treatment in 2011, I am not under any medication.

“My doctors in the U.S just told me to go and change my lifestyle and nutritional habits and they told me a few other things I should avoid.

“The main one they stressed on was sugar. They said I should avoid sugar and go more on fruits and vegetables.

“ I eat rice, bread, spaghetti and other Nigerian delicacies, but I avoid anything that is sweet and has processed sugar.

“My drink has been only water and water alone. I also avoid meals with condiments and  seasonings,’’ he said.

Rufai mans the  B4G (Built 4 God) Foundation with the objectives to educate and see how cancer can be eradicated, as well as give support to persons living with cancer.

According to the WHO, the most prevalent cancers are cervical, breast, liver and prostate and together these caused over one third of all cancer deaths in the African Region in 2018.

As part of activities to mark the World Cancer Day, the WHO, in a statement issued in Geneva to commemorate the 2020 World Cancer Day, outlined ways to step-up cancer services for over seven million lives in low and middle-income countries across the world.

About 9.6 million people die from cancer every year and about 70 per cent of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries, according to the WHO.

The day is annually marked worldwide on February 4 to raise awareness on prevention and treatment of cancer.

WHO highlighted a wide range of proven interventions to prevent new cancer cases. These include controlling the use of tobacco (responsible for over 25 per cent of cancer deaths).

Other interventions are: vaccination against hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer, eliminating cervical cancer byvaccinating against HPV, screening and treatment.

“Implementing high-impact cancer management interventions that bring value for money and ensuring access to palliative care including pain relief.”

WHO warned that if current trends continued, the world would see a 60 per cent increase in cancer cases over the next two decades.

The UN health agency stated that the greatest increase (an estimated 81 per cent) in new cases would occur in low-and middle-income countries where survival rates were low.

“This is largely because these countries have had to focus limited health resources on combating infectious diseases and       improving maternal and child health, while health services were not equipped to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers.”

In 2019, it noted, more than 90 per cent of high-income countries reported that comprehensive treatment services for cancer were available in public health system compared to less than 15 per cent of low-income countries.

The WHO statement quoted Dr Ren Minghui, the Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases, as saying that “It is a wake-up call to all.

“It is a wake-up call to all of us to tackle the unacceptable inequalities between cancer services in rich and poor countries.

“If people have access to primary care and referral systems, cancer can be detected early, treated effectively and cured. Cancer should not be a death sentence for anyone, anywhere.”

According to the statement, it is possible to achieve progress in poorer countries.

It stated that WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) were set to release two coordinated reports on World Cancer Day.

It said that the report was in response to governments’ calls for more research into the scope and potential policies and programmes to improve cancer control.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, said “at least seven million lives would be saved over the next decade by identifying the most appropriate science for each country situation by basing strong cancer responses on universal health coverage (UHC) mobilising stakeholders to work together.”

Globally, the most common cancers are cervical, prostate, colon and rectal (colorectal) cancers.

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