by Donella Hosten
It is no secret that cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide, and Grenada is no exception to this.
According to Dr Francis Martin, Senior Medical Officer attached to the Ministry of Health, there has been a noticeable change in the surveillance and incidence of cancers, which appears to be increasing yearly over the last decade. Even though there were times when the numbers went down in the past, “we’re beginning to see another rise over the last 2 years or so.”
Martin noted that in the past year, there have been between 170 and 200 deaths, including teenagers, from different types of cancers.
During an exclusive interview, Dr Martin revealed that colon cancer appears to be more prevalent in females, and rectal cancer is more prevalent in males. This, he said is a worldwide phenomenon; however, he is unsure as to what is responsible for the gendered distribution of these cancers.
There are a number of risk factors associated with the development of certain types of cancers, which are known by many persons. These ‘multifactorial’ risks include consuming diets rich in fats, and excessive use of canned and cured foods which contain nitrites preservative. Nitrites, under the influence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, turns to cancer-causing nitrous amines.
Martin therefore reiterated the importance of eating local foods and healthier alternatives which can assist with the deterring of cancers. Martin spoke of persons’ exposure to radiation through cellular phones, microwaves, and extreme sunlight exposure, as well as those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol, are also prone to developing cancers.
Another cancer-causing factor includes exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), very common among sexually active persons. HPV increases the risk of cervical cancers in women as well as mouth and throat cancers in males. Fortunately, vaccines can be administered in order to prevent its occurrence.
The incidence of cervical cancers in women, though still high, has gone down a bit, as a result of ladies getting their pap smears early enough in order to detect any abnormal growths, and to get the necessary treatment. Although 21 is the age stipulated by the American Gynecological Association for young women to have their first pap smear, it is also suggested they ought to have the procedure done once they become sexually active. Martin hopes that males will get themselves tested early so they can be treated early.
It is recommended that males get their prostate and colon checked, at age 40 and 50 respectively. However, it is believed that some sort of systematic and institutionalised checkpoints need to be incorporated for the male population.
Martin described the procedure for testing the colon and the rectum as being ‘uncomfortable,’ rather than painful. Fortunately, there are sedatives and other medicines that can assist with the relaxation process. He said that some men fear the procedure and when they do get tested, they become tense, resulting in a painful experience.
Another test which is inexpensive and basic, is the faecal occult blood test, which tests for microscopic blood in the faeces.
Martin stated that at times there aren’t symptoms of cancers affecting the cervix, and ‘most of the times, by the time you see symptoms of a cancer it’s already too late.’ This is why it is important for persons to get checked early. Martin was able to highlight some symptoms in females, including abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge, pain and swellings. According to him, most of the cancers that are found from HPV were found during routine pap smears or the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA), which is a new routine used to identify pre-cancerous legions on the cervix.
Dr Martin stands among other healthcare practitioners and nutritionists who implore the public to consume more local produce, consume less processed foods, and simply adopt healthier lifestyle practices.