Around the world, people come together on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer, and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.
Specifically, World Cancer Day targets misinformation, raises awareness, and reduces stigma. We spoke with Dr. Jeremie Arash Rafii Tabrizi, Professor of Genetic Medicine and Professor of Genetic Medicine in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar, to find out five things people in Qatar should be aware of when it comes to cancer:
Despite popular belief, there are no foods, diets or supplements that can prevent cancer, besides obvious healthy lifestyle habits such as not smoking tobacco, according to Dr. Rafii.
However, exercise can prevent the recurrence of cancer.
Cancer can sometimes make a comeback in people who have previously undergone treatment for it, especially within the first five years. With regular exercise, though, this can be prevented. Dr. Rafii says patients should ideally exercise five times a week for 45-60 minutes, ensuring that their heart-rate is increased.
Most cancers are treatable if diagnosed early. But if people forgo their regular medical check-ups, this leads to a late diagnosis that can make treatment difficult or, in some cases, impossible. Across Qatar, there are various screening programs that Dr. Rafii encourages people to make use of.
This is especially the case if there is a family history of cancer. In some types of breast cancer, genetics can severely impact the likelihood of occurrence – going up to 80 percent in some cases. “Family history should always raise a red flag, in which case people should be more proactive about their tests and screenings,” says Dr. Rafii.
Unfortunately, within this region, a stigma tends to follow cancer patients and survivors. Dr. Rafii highlights the importance of constantly reminding people that cancer is no-one’s fault. It is merely a disease that, in most cases, can be managed or cured if given the right care and attention. Yet some people frame cancer as a death sentence and associate heavily negative connotations with it. It’s crucial to remember that, once cured, those who battled cancer are no longer ‘patients’, ‘victims’, or any other similar term - life goes back to normal and they should not be treated any differently. This is why it is important to break the stigma surrounding the disease, according to Dr. Rafii, because that can lead to exclusion for many patients, making life after cancer difficult too. This leads us to the fact that…
For many cancer patients, a sense of shame is associated with cancer, as though their body has betrayed them. In this situation, they either tend to exclude themselves from others, or - due to the stigma - are excluded by others. But this can actually be damaging to their treatment.
A huge element of cancer treatment is the mental battle it involves. “I ran a marathon where we hiked up mountains and a lot of people with me were actually undergoing chemotherapy at the time,” Dr. Rafii remarks. “Yet they were able to run and climb and do everything else - it’s more of a mental game than anything else. Our bodies can endure it, but we mentally give up.”
Having a good and healthy support system ensures that the mental battle isn’t lost.
“You need your family and friends along for the ride. Don’t isolate yourself — be proud of the work you’re going through,” says Dr. Rafii.
At the end of the day, as Dr. Rafii says, we all play a part in how cancer is perceived within society. It’s up to us to be active voices in the fight against cancer, to raise awareness, and to support those around us who are going through that battle themselves. As individuals, or as organizations, we work in our own capacity to have an impact, whether that’s leading research for cancer treatment, raising awareness of breast cancer, or coming together as a community to have our voices heard on this issue.
World Cancer Day has launched a new campaign in 2019. ‘I Am and I Will’ aims to encourage individuals to speak up and inspire others. Head on over to their website to find out how you can participate too: www.worldcancerday.org