12/04/2017 03:52 SAST | Updated 12/04/2017 03:52 SAST

The Thing About Cancer Is That It's Complicated

Healthy eating and living are beneficial for all health conditions. It may reduce the risk of getting cancer, but it does not prevent it.

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Heaven knows, there cannot be too many instances of drumming up awareness and support for cancer prevention and research. However, we must be careful not to relay the message that all cancer types can be influenced by environment and lifestyle.

In the blog post, The Rights Assigned to Every Person Are Important in the Battle against Cancer one appreciates the sincere attempt at highlighting that our government should make healthy food affordable to all and ensure a healthy environment. Food deserts are a reality and the frustration about disease that is preventable when healthy food is reasonably priced for those living in poverty, is completely understandable.

Cancer in whatever form is complex and insidious. However well intended, one must guard against misinformation and oversimplification.

A healthy diet, sufficient water, moderate physical activity and an overall healthy lifestyle is conducive to the prevention of all lifestyle diseases and should thus be encouraged. Obesity may increase the risk of some cancers, but the absence of obesity does not prevent cancer. The National Cancer Institute found that "... studies of human populations have not yet shown definitively that any dietary component causes or protects against cancer."

Rather than leaving those readers who battled cancer feeling as if their cancer could have been prevented had they simply followed a healthier lifestyle, we should focus on ensuring that as a society we encourage screening for cancers that are treatable when detected early. We should insist on policies that force all medical aids to pay for not only annual mammograms, pap smears or prostate-specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer screening, but also for colonoscopies that successfully detect the silent killer, colon cancer. Annual check-ups that go beyond blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol screening have to be a must for all.

The state and medical aids must ensure that once a treatment such as chemotherapy is embarked on, no week is skipped because the session was not paid for. Medical providers must be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for reductions on chemotherapy and post-chemo medication. Human dignity and thus human rights are infringed when cancer survival rates depend on the bank balance of those affected. Studies have shown that poverty does affect the cancer survival rate.

It is an oversimplification to believe that diet and lifestyle prevent cancer. The fact is, healthy eating and living are beneficial for all health conditions. It may reduce the risk of getting cancer, but it does not prevent it.

Even well-educated, non-smoking, healthy-living, non-obese, active, organic-eating, no-hormone-swallowing teetotallers, fanatical about annual check-ups end up with cancer. Trust me, I should know.