Delayed diagnosis, inadequate medical screening kill 2 out of 3 cancer patients in Turkey

February 2014 /MELTEM NAZ KAŞO, İSTANBUL
With World Cancer Day in mind, the Turkish Cancer Society has stated that approximately 150,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed each year -- most in cities located in the western part of the country -- and that two out of three cancer patients die within five years due to delayed diagnosis and a lack of emphasis on medical screening.

World Cancer Day is observed on Feb. 4 to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. This year, 396 events are planned around the world aimed at guiding the public in the battle against cancer by breaking four prevalent myths: “We don't need to talk about cancer,” “There are no signs and symptoms of cancer,” “There is nothing I can do about cancer” and “I don't have the right to cancer care.”

Atilla Karaelmas, host of one of these events and secretary-general of the Turkish Cancer Society, informed Today's Zaman that cancer cases in Turkey are relatively rare compared to developed countries that have a higher percentage of older citizens who are more prone to the illness. Nevertheless, Karaelmas pointed out that Turkey still has an increasing frequency of lung, breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancers.

According to the Turkish Parliament's Cancer Research Commission, 90 to 95 percent of cancer cases in Turkey are caused by environmental factors. Furthermore, statistics reveal that 80 percent of cancer patients in Turkey are diagnosed in the later stages of their illness. While the rate of recovery for those who are diagnosed early with cancer is close to the rate in the European Union, insufficient screening programs and campaigns to raise awareness make it unlikely that rates of early diagnosis will soon equal European levels. Notably, the death rate for breast cancer is high in developing countries like Turkey, a phenomenon explained by Dr. Christopher P. Wild, president of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as a consequence of the difficulties involved in getting effective screening and treatment services. The cancer index by the Turkish Ministry of Health's Department of Cancer reveal that there were 40,000 new breast cancer cases for women in 2008, making it the single most common form of cancer for women, followed by thyroid, colorectal, uterine, tracheal and gastric cancer. For men, the order is trachea', prostate, bladder, colorectal, gastric and laryngeal cancer.

Cancer is identified as the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases. The American Cancer Society emphasizes that although there are many kinds of cancer, all cancers start when abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and death. The World Cancer Reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 and 2008 claim that predominant causes of cancer include tobacco use, alcohol, diet and nutrition. However, speaking with Today's Zaman, Karaelmas stressed that personally controllable factors such as healthy nutrition, regular sleep and exercise can help us win only 30 percent of the battle against cancer. “Environmental pollution, food contaminants and the effects of industrialization are 70 percent responsible for cancer. Only if local authorities show serious political commitment and determination can we reduce cancer incidences on a societal level.”

The IARC produced an official WHO report this year to discuss the latest strategies in the fight against cancer and to provide information on the most common cancer types. The report includes a case study from Turkey titled “Cancer Control in Turkey: an encouraging national cancer control plan for the future.” Turkey's campaigns against smoking and obesity and the opening of Cancer Screening Training Centers (KETEM) are particularly praised. And yet, Karaelmas still does not consider current efforts to be sufficient to fight against cancer in the future. “The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock should control food products more strictly. Also, urbanization and industrialization should be planned carefully in a way that prioritizes the health of society.”


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