The ‘C’ word today that is terrorising mankind irrespective of age, colour, creed or race, creeps up on its victims unannounced and uninvited, rooting itself deep, sometimes slowly and steadily, and at times, at the speed of lightening. It all starts with one body cell going rogue. Cancer is a mutation, a division of cells that the body’s immune system has no control over. The undeterred division becomes a continuous process, not halting, not pausing; subsequently it flows to other parts of the body mostly using blood vessels as a medium. There is a huge list of types and kinds of cancer that starts from A and does not end at Z. Cancer does not come knocking, it does not come with a warning, and it gets down to the wear and tear of the human body quietly. It develops when the body’s control mechanism stops working, and cells grow out of control. These new abnormal cells keep forming till they bind together into a mass of tissue known as a tumour. However in some types, such as leukemia, this formation of tumour does not take place. Tumours are benign as well as malignant, the latter being the more serious ones due to their ability to invade the surrounding tissues and continuously spread throughout the human body. Some malignant tumours also spread throughout the body via the bloodstream: a process called metastasis. The factors that trigger this cell damage that may eventually lead to cancer are a long list that is subject to much contemplation and debate and is under much scrutiny. These factors include cigarette smoke and other chemicals known as carcinogen. Poor diet, ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn, as well as some infections, are also some widely acknowledged factors. There are some foods that increase the risk of cancer, while others seem to help our fighting chances. A diet low in saturated fat and red meat can reduce the risk of cancers such as breast and colon cancer, while fibre, fruit and vegetables can strengthen our immunity against them. There are natural chemicals in fruits and vegetables – antioxidants, which cleanse human body of toxins and damaging genes. Smoking is criticised for causing more than a quarter of all deaths that are caused by cancer. Hence, one definite way of improving chances of avoiding cancer is to quit smoking. Cancer is not a disease inherited, however, some people do inherit an increased risk of cancer because of an altered gene that they might take from either parent, and this altered gene may be important for cell growth or for repair of damaged DNA. Cancer, the silent killer, is more haunting for its ability to hide its symptoms, or disguise them under pretexts of common ailments. What happens in most cases is that by the time cancer is diagnosed it already has advanced to a stage where probability of treatment working has diminished. The chances of success in treatment are directly correlated to the stage the cancer is at, at the time of diagnosis. This is why awareness is so stressed upon. Know your body, understand your body, so you are in a better position to judge when you immediately need to seek counsel of your GP. Similarly routine medical checkups should not be tossed aside for the next 5 to 7 years, it should be maintained as an annual agenda, one which is not procrastinated. It is common for us to go see a doctor only when we feel we ‘have’ to, or we are forced to by pain or discomfort to a level where we are unable to go about our daily business. This behaviour, where your health comes second, and a medical check-up is considered necessary only when there is a good enough reason, is why uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells manages to thrive in the body. There is no pride in the fact that you have not been checked by a doctor in the last five years.

The writer is CEO White Ribbon Pakistan and is a development and communications professional with extensive experience in Health Awareness, Behaviour Transformation Communications and Strategic Public Relations. He tweets at @MrOmerAftab.