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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 7. 1962.

Cancer, Cancer, Cancer, — What it is: Who Gets it: How to Stop it

page 6

Cancer, Cancer, Cancer,

What it is: Who Gets it: How to Stop it

Cancer has an incidence of one in four and consequently very few families indeed have not had first hand experience of the disease. It is a social menace which is assuming larger proportions as the advance of medical science and social hygiene reduce deaths from other diseases. Only by obtaining the active cooperation of the public can the fight against cancer be waged successfully. The British Empire Cancer Campaign Society aims to obtain this.

It is probably true that no other disease is surrounded by such an atmosphere of misunderstanding and fear. It is this unfortunate public reaction to cancer which is undoubtedly the cause of the loss of many lives unnecessarily. Of all diseases which afflict mankind, cancer is one of the most easily treated but only if caught in its early stages. Early diagnosis is essential. If people could be educated to the simple facts about cancer and alerted to its danger signs, the toll in human lives from this disease would be halved, even with existing knowledge of the disease. Here in New Zealand we are curing one in four of cancer victims only, when we should be curing one in two.

As the advance of medical knowledge has permitted us to reduce mortality from such diseases as tuberculosis, pneumonia and the common infections, more and more people are succumbing to cancer because they are now living longer. It is said that cancer is a by-product of modern civilisation, but only in the sense that civilisation has increased our life span and therefore our period of exposure to the disease, is this true. Cancer is essentially a disease of the older person. Among communities where life expectancy is less than forty years, such as in Egypt, Chile, India, there is little incidence of cancer.

Before the last war a diagnosis of cancer usually meant death. This is not so today. With the improved surgical techniques, more effective drugs, better anaesthetics and the use of blood transfusions the surgeon can now confidently undertake surgery which would formerly have been impossible.

Co-Operation Of Community

Although it is possible however to cure half of all cancers, here in New Zealand we are curing one in four only. The responsibility for this must lie with the community. The medical profession has the knowledge and ability to achieve a much higher cure rate but it can do little until it receives the co-operation of the public. In the United States of America, the cancer cure rate has been raised from one in four to one in three over the last ten years. They know no more about the disease than we, nor have they any better means of treating it. But during the last decade the American Cancer Society has carried out an intensive programme of public education to alert people to the symptoms of the disease so that they are in a better position to recognise cancer.

Misconceptions About Cancer

There are many misconceptions surrounding cancer. It is not true that cancer is contagious. Although no one can speak with authoritive knowledge, for understanding of the disease is yet in its infancy, we do know that it cannot be passed from one person to another. No doctor or nurse having spent a lifetime caring for cancer victims has been known to contract the disease from a patient.



Cancer is not hereditary, although we may inherit a weakness which makes us more liable to get the disease. We have learned from laboratory experiments with mice that the ability to pass on cancer is the recessive trait and the ability to resist the dominant trait. If two persons marry, one with each characteristic, their children will not inherit cancer and as all human beings are hybrids, there is little reason to believe that cancer is inherited.

Cancer is not caused by an injury. Women particularly are apt to associate breast cancers with a remembered blow or knock but the evidence is against there being any relation between injuries and cancer. If we developed cancers on the site of injuries, cancer would be rife.

Cancer is not a sign of a misspent life. It is completely indiscriminate in its attacks. It affects all races and physical types. Research into its control therefore is the responsibility of the community. Wide public support is needed to alert people to the menace of cancer and so reduce its appalling toll of human Jives.

Known Causes Of Cancer

Known causes of cancer account for only a small fraction of the total number of cases. Most cancers are regarded as occuring spontaneously. In addition only a minority of the people exposed to the known hazards actually develop cancer. There must be another factor which can be classed as individual susceptibility.

Intense heat can cause cancer Natives of Kashmir tend sheep at night and to keep warm suspend baskets of hot charcoal beneath their robes. They are the only people in the world who develop cancer of the skin of the abdomen.

Chronic irritation can cause cancer. Gall stones if left untreated may in time cause a malignancy.

Chemical compounds may cause cancer. It is known that arsenic, tar, creosote oil, crude paraffin oil cause cancer of the skin.

Asbestos, chromatic compounds, tar fumes cause cancer of the lung.

Cancer From Sunshine

Of the known causes of cancer, the greatest single factor is sunshine. Prolonged overexposure to the sun is harmful especially if you are of the fair-skinned type who does not readily tan. To put into perspective the amount of exposure required, skin cancer was formerly known as the "Sailor's" or "Farmer's" disease.

Preventative Measures

There are four ways of reducing the chance of becoming a cancer victim. They are:—

  • Watch for the danger signs of cancer.
  • Stop smoking — and for women over 30
  • Practice breast palpation
  • Have cervical smears taken
The seven danger signs of cancer are:—
  • 1. Any sore that does not heal.
  • 2. A lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere.
  • 3. Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • 4. Any change in a wart or mole.
  • 5. Persistent indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  • 6. Persistent hoarseness or cough.
  • 7. Any change in normal bowel habits.

If you have one of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean you have cancer. But if your symptom persists in spite of usual remedies, the intelligent course of action is to seek a doctor's advice for it is because cancer so often hides under the symptoms of innocuous complaints that it takes an unnecessarily high toll of life. People are misled by the apparent benignity of their complaint. The way to raise the present cure rate of one in four to the possible one in two is for everyone to appraise their own state of health intelligently. But meanwhile do not worry about your health. The time to start thinking about your health is when you have a persistent symptom. Even then you will probably not have cancer but you cannot afford to take the risk.

The incidence of cancer broadly speaking has been static except for lung cancer in the Western world, where the rate has shown, and is still showing an explosive increase.

Cancer strikes one in four of the population at some time in their lives and the present death rate from the disease is one in six in New Zealand. After heart disease it causes the largest number of deaths. In most cases a death from heart disease can be attributed to the natural decline of physical powers. But not so with cancer, a death from this disease is the result of the growth of an abnormality which by interfering with the body's mechanisms causes death.

Cancer is not peculiar to the human race. It afflicts all forms of life, animals, reptiles, birds, insects, trees, shrubs and plants. Wherever there; is life, there is also cancer. Nor is cancer new. It has existed throughout all time. The Ancient Egyptians recognised it as did the Greeks. There are fossilised bones of dinosaurs in existence which show signs of cancerous growth. Budgerigars, domestic poultry goldfish, mice and dogs are more prone to the disease than rabbits and primates. Certain breeds of dogs, such as retrievers, are very susceptible. Chows and Pekinese on the other hand rarely contract it. Only six per cent, of old horses die of cancer, but eighty per cent of old grey horses develop It. All human races are in total equally susceptible to cancer but there are remarkable differences in the forms of cancer which occur.

Cancer Campaign

Here in New Zealand the fight against cancer is being spearheaded by the British Empire Cancer Campaign Society. The Society is divided into five divisions, all of which are completely autonomous in all matters including finance. They collaborate through a central committee to coordinate activities and to carry out research. The Society has existed in this country since the late nineteen twenties. It has little connection with its parent body in Britain except in sharing the same objectives.

The Society is fortunate in enjoying the full support and cooperation of the Department of Health and the two bodies have often acted in close liaison. It is possible that in the near future the Society and the Department of Health will mount a joint campaign to promote the early diagnosis of cancer.

Society's Aims

1.Establish an association of persons, firms and companies interested in the cure and prevention of cancer.
2.Spread public knowledge on cancer to assist early diagnosis by alerting people to the common danger signs of cancer.
3.Remove people's misconceptions and unnecessary fears, explain the simple facts about cancer and inform the public that of all diseases, cancer is one of the most easily treated if discovered early.
4.Invite the co-operation of the public in the campaign against cancer by making the work of the society better known and by increasing membership.
5.Promote cancer education to keep the medical profession abreast of the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques.
6.Provide funds for the training of individuals or groups and for the provision of machinery and medical equipment to help-treat cancer victims.
7.Provide funds for the comfort and convenience of cancer! sufferers.
8.Co-ordinate and stimulate research work on cancer.
9.Establish and partake in any movement for research or enquiry into the causes of cancer.
10.Receive funds to promote the'? objects of the Society.

In the public educational field, the Society's two Divisions in Auckland and Wellington employ", full-time staff who are available to lecture to groups and show films on cancer. All Divisions engage in professional education and the purchase of equipment for hospitals. In the five major centres in New Zealand, equipment to irradiate cancer has in all cases been provided by the Society. The "Divisions also combine to support current research in Dunedin; the value of the work being carried out there in connection with hormone dependent tumours by Dr Bielchovski has received worldwide recognition. There are also research projects proceeding in Christchurch and Auckland financed by the Society. Valuable work has been done in Auckland in the search for a cancer inhibiting chemical compound.