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Reduce cancer risks with healthy choices, early detection

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — In the Caribbean region, cancer is the second leading cause of death. However, a significant number of cancer deaths can largely be reduced and prevented through many strategies, including primary prevention, early detection, management, and treatment of patients with cancer.

“Nearly one-half of cancers are preventable or treatable if detected early. Cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers among women in the Caribbean, remains a significant public health problem. A study in which the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) was involved, revealed that cervical cancer accounted for 4.5 percent to 18.2 percent of cancer deaths in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean,” according to Dr. Glennis Andall-Brereton, CARPHA Epidemiologist/Senior Technical Officer, Non-Communicable Diseases.

Breast and cervical cancer are the leading causes of cancer deaths in women and have a significant negative societal impact in our Region. Among Caribbean men, prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths, with lung cancer being second.

Vaccination and screening programmes are effective interventions to reduce the burden of specific types of cancer. Research shows that cervical cancer deaths are two to nine times higher in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean compared to the US.

The number of deaths from cervical cancer is very concerning because this is the only cancer, which is preventable through screening, early detection, treatment and vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV). A 2017 study[2] highlighted the suitability and need for accelerated implementation of the nine-valent HPV vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer in the Caribbean.

The theme for World Cancer Day 2019 “I Am and I Will” calls for personal commitment to help reduce the global burden of cancer. The fight to reduce cancer deaths cannot be achieved in isolation. On Feb. 4, CARPHA joined its member states and the rest of the world to unite to make cancer prevention a health priority. Everyone can help reduce the burden of cancer if we each take responsibility for our health. A person’s risk of developing cancer can be substantially reduced through the adoption of healthy lifestyles and the practice of appropriate health seeking behaviours.

Adopting healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way toward reducing cancer risks and the associated personal and financial costs. Prevention measures include avoiding the use of tobacco, limiting alcohol use, keeping a healthy weight, being physically active, and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Participation in screening programmes is strongly encouraged for the prevention of cervical cancer and early detection of breast, colon and rectum cancer; and being vaccinated against and Hepatitis B and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

CARPHA remains committed to working with key partners to reduce the burden of cancer in the Region. In 2018, CARPHA became the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Caribbean Cancer Registry Hub for the Caribbean, which is working to strengthen cancer surveillance by building capacity for cancer registration in the Region to provide reliable information for improving planning for cancer prevention and control. The Agency is collaborating with The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agencies and international institutions to impact trade agreements and influence the availability and access to healthy foods to support the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cancer.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6549a3.htm?s_cid=mm6549a3_e

[2] Andall-Brereton, Glennis et al. Prevalence of high-risk human papillomavirus among women in two English-speaking Caribbean countries. Rev Panam Salud Publica. 2017;e41:e41

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