This Feb. 4 people around the world will honor World Cancer Day, a time devoted to raising awareness about cancer solutions. News reports often emphasize the number of deaths and escalating rates of those affected. However, greater knowledge about the disease and improvements in treatment, prevention, and detection have at the same time increased the number of survivors.

World Cancer Day seeks to raise awareness about the disease and its solutions.

The day’s tagline, “Not beyond us,” promotes the importance of four main solutions to cancer: making healthy lifestyle choices, increasing access to early detection procedures, providing treatment for everyone who needs it, and maximizing patient quality of life.

At a time when the number of cancers is rising dramatically around the world, the positive message of World Cancer Day reminds people that many cases of cancer are preventable. And with early detection, treatment is most effective.

Each year, doctors diagnose 14 million cases of cancer globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That number is expected to rise to 22 million over the next 20 years. About one in three people can expect to develop cancer in their lifetimes.

Half of all cancer-related deaths are those who died prematurely, between the ages of 30 and 69, according to World Cancer Day.

Although people in wealthy countries are more likely to develop cancer, those in developing nations are more likely to die from it, reports National Public Radio. That’s because citizens in developing nations don’t have the same access to medical care as those in First World countries.

Dr. Christopher Wild with the International Agency for Research on Cancer says:

“More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.”

About half of all cancers could be prevented with concerted effort, according to WHO. Some cancers, such as those affecting the cervix, stomach, and liver, are related to an infection that can be prevented by a vaccine.

Meanwhile many lung, large bowel, and breast cancers are attributed to behaviors or the environment. Alcohol consumption, smoking, and sugary beverages are all linked to cancer and can be eliminated with effort, according to WHO.

Other risk factors, like exposure to air pollution, can be changed but require widespread change from people and governments. Dr. Bernard Stewart, co-editor of the World Cancer Report 2014, says legislation limiting the risks of cancer is needed to lower rates and improve survival. He adds:

“In low-and middle-income countries, it is critical that governments commit to enforcing regulatory measures to protect their populations and implement cancer prevention plans.”

World Cancer Day organizers say a collective responsibility exists for wealthy countries to help developing nations expand cancer detection and treatment options for those who develop the disease. In addition to treatment, organizers say nations must make policy changes to lower cancer rates and help people live.

In a deadly paradox, some of the nations with the worst cancer rates have cultural stigmas preventing widespread discussion about cancer, stifling efforts to raise awareness about the very things that can save people’s lives, according to World Cancer Day.

One of the large myths surrounding cancer is that people lack power to prevent it, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However healthy lifestyle choices can make a dramatic difference, the ACS adds.

Some people may also believe they don’t have the right to cancer care, but that is also a myth. Everyone has the right to cancer care, ACS says. World Cancer Day seeks to raise awareness to debunk these myths and encourage action to save lives.

Activities taking place around the world include festivals, seminars, and public awareness campaigns. Visit the World Cancer Day events map to stay up-to-date on events in your area.

Planning at the highest levels of government is critical to ensure all cancer patients get the care they need.

Many developed nations already have in place plans for responding to cancer. The European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), for example, has guidelines on the use of opioids for treating cancer pain, and those guidelines continue to be evaluated through peer-reviewed research.

EAPC, in addition to WHO, recommends morphine as a first-line treatment for cancer pain, according to research published in The Lancet Oncology. EAPC says morphine used therapeutically doesn’t lend itself to abuse, however there is a growing concern, at least in the U.S., about opioid addiction, which can result in overdose or death.

Opioids are typically a primary option for treating cancer pain, but alternatives and complementary drugs may take their place or reduce the needed dosage.

While opioids may be the most powerful drugs for treating cancer pain, alternatives do exist. Drugs like Aspirin and Ibuprofen may help to alleviate bone or muscle pain, and could possibly be used in concert with opioids for extreme pain. These drugs can be taken by pill, but are also available through injection for heightened potency.

Steroids are also sometimes used to control cancer pain. They reduce swelling, which may help if a tumor is causing pain by compressing surrounding tissue. Bisphosphonates, commonly used to treat osteoporosis, are also sometimes used to alleviate pain related to bone cancer. Antidepressants are another alternative, particularly for treating nerve pain, according to Cancer Research UK.

Non-pill therapies include nerve blocks, which are injections that lower pain by deadening the affected nerve.

Therapies such as acupuncture and biofeedback are growing in popularity for patients, as well as stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation, reports NBC News. Biofeedback methods teach patients how to control the body’s vital signs, including respiration, body temperature, and heartbeat. Stress can exacerbate feelings of pain, and reducing anxiety may elevate patients’ pain thresholds, making them less sensitive to discomfort.

These alternative methods of treating pain may be used in concert with opioids or other medications to help patients feel as good as possible. Ultimately, the type of therapy used will depend on the type of cancer a person has and where the pain is coming from.

What do you think is the most effective way to treat cancer pain?

Image courtesy of World Cancer Day

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