People of faith sometimes have difficulty understanding why they might acquire an illness such as cancer. Until one becomes ill, we seldom understand how it affects the quality of life. What is your perception of cancer? Have you thought about getting screened? What are some steps you can take to prevent this disease?
A recent story of cancer involves a 55-year-old female pastor who told of her tumultuous emotions when informed of her cancer. After her diagnosis, she was in denial. She exclaimed, “I don’t get cancer. It can’t be.” She had been the “healthy” one in her family, with a lot of energy. Her job was to visit the sick in the hospitals, including cancer patients facing chemotherapy or surgery. Now she is thankful she was screened and caught the cancer early. She learned a humbling lesson by recognizing that she is not superwoman. We know cancer exists, but few of us think it can actually happen to us.1
Cancer is characterized by abnormal and unregulated cell growth. There are more than 200 types of cancer—lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer are among the most common forms. Risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, increase the chances of getting cancer. General symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, a new lump or bump, and sometimes pain.
Colorectal cancer is a common cancer whose prevalence can be reduced. The colon, or large bowel, the last portion of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract, begins at the end of the small intestine and ends at the rectum—the final six inches of the digestive system. The colon, a hollow and muscular tube about five feet long, absorbs water and mineral nutrients from food matter and serves as a storage place for waste matter.2
In most people, colorectal cancers develop slowly over a period of several years. Before a cancer develops, a growth of tissue or tumor begins as a noncancerous polyp, developing on the lining of the colon or rectum, which may change into cancer. Another type of precancerous condition, called dysplasia, is seen in people with diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. British researchers say they have developed a vaccine that stimulates the immune system to fight colorectal cancer cells. The vaccine helps stimulate immune cell production in up to 70 percent of cancer patients before and after surgery to remove cancerous tumors.3
Cancer can affect anyone. However, for colorectal cancer, individuals are at higher risk if they
- are age 50 and older
- have a family history that includes colorectal cancer
- have certain lifestyle risks (smoking, inactivity, obesity, and a high-fat, low-fiber diet)
- consume large quantities of meat, especially smoked and processed meats
- have a low intake of whole grains and legumes
- are African American (recommended to start getting screened at the age of 45)
According to the 2003 World Cancer Report, “cancer rates could further increase by 50% to 15 million new cases in the year 2020” globally. The report also provides clear evidence that living healthier can prevent one-third of cancers. Fortunately, another third can be cured.4
Living a healthy lifestyle is key. If you smoke, quit smoking. Include more fiber in your diet, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Get vaccinated against the hepatitis B and C viruses (which can lead to liver cancer), and human papillomaviruses (which can lead to cervical and anogenital cancers). “In developing countries, up to 23 per cent of malignancies are caused by infectious agents.”5
Education and awareness are imperative steps to increase behavior change and reduce risks. The number of cancer screenings could increase by breaking barriers, dispelling myths, and enlightening individuals. Government initiatives, community cancer programs, and other screening prevention programs are readily available in participating regions. The World Health Organization provides practical advice on cancer prevention.
As people decide to change their lifestyles and be more conscious of ways to inhibit cancer, they will also benefit from looking to their heavenly Father as He leads and guides their lives. God gives words of hope and you will always find Him there, even through the darkest times. “ ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; / I have called you by your name; / You are Mine. / When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; / And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. / When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, / Nor shall the flame scorch you’ ” (Isa. 43:1, 2, NKJV)
1. Terry Pluto, “Pastor Learns From Cancer Diagnosis: Terry Pluto,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 18, 2010,
accessed January 13, 2011, Available at: http://www.cleveland.com/religion/index.ssf/2010/12/pastor_learns _from_cancer_diag.html.
2. “Colon,” Washington Adventist Hospital Health Tip, November 8, 2007, http://www.adventisthealthcare.com/WAH/health/tips/archive.aspx.
3. “Colon Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise,” Medicine Online, accessed January 13, 2011, http://www.medicineonline.com /news/12/6968/Colon-Cancer-Vaccine-Shows-Promise.html.
4. World Health Organization, “Global Cancer Rates Could Increase by 50% to 15 Million by 2020,” news release, April 3, 2003, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/.