Cancer is a broad term that refers to a group of diseases which causes cells in your body to divide uncontrollably. These cells tend to use a lot of energy, and can compress nearby organs and spread to other parts of the body. A group of cancerous cells growing in one spot is called a tumour.
Approximately 1 in 8 Cambodians will develop cancer before the age of 75. In 2018, there were 15,362 new cancer cases diagnosed. It accounts for 13% of all deaths in Cambodia.
Liver cancer is the most common type of cancer in Cambodia, followed by lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.
The symptoms of cancer vary depending on the type. Common symptoms include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
- Unexpected weight loss
- Painless, swollen bumps (lymph nodes) in the neck, armpits, groin, or anywhere else
- Night sweats
- Mild fever
The cells in your body are always growing, reproducing, and dying. Replacing old cells is a vital part of keeping you fit and healthy, just like replacing old parts on a bike.
Cancer occurs when mutations develop in a cell, making it less able to control when it dies and divides. Instead of dying, it will continue to grow and reproduce. It takes many years of mutation for a cell to become cancerous, which is why your risk increases as you get older.
Certain genes make some people more likely to develop cancer than others. Also some environmental factors, such as smoking and sun exposure, can increase your risk by causing your cells to mutate faster. These all vary depending on the type of cancer.
However, no one can predict with 100% certainty who will get cancer, or when.
There are some risk factors for cancer, such as your age and genes, which can’t be changed. However, lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing some of the most common cancers, including:
- Quitting smoking. Any kind of tobacco use – including smoking, vaping, and chewing – greatly increases your risk of a range of different cancers, including lung, mouth, pancreas, cervix, and kidney.
- Drinking in moderation. Your risk of liver, colon, kidney, lung, and breast cancer all increase with how much alcohol you drink, and how often.
- Eating a balanced diet. Eating lots of processed meat, not enough fruits and vegetables, and being overweight can all increase your risk of a range of cancers.
- Exercising regularly. Aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This can be something as simple as a brisk walk, or climbing some stairs.
- Being sun smart. Prolonged sun exposure increases your risk of cancer. When outdoors for long periods of time, use sunscreen, try to cover exposed areas, and stay in the shade when possible.
- Avoid risky behaviours, such as unprotected sex and needle sharing. Certain infections that increase your risk of cancer, such as HIV, HPV, and hepatitis, are commonly spread this way.
However, it is important to remember that anyone can get cancer, no matter how low your risk is.
Your doctor, or a cancer specialist, will develop a cancer treatment plan with you. The specific treatment you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have, how far it has progressed, and what services are available. This might include one or a combination of:
- Chemotherapy: This involves delivering a range of medications, aimed at killing the cancer cells, into your blood via a needle. You may need to visit specialised cancer treatment centers to do this, as the process can take a few hours. How often you receive chemotherapy, and for how long, will vary.
- Radiotherapy: This involves firing a very thin beam of radiation at the tumour in order to kill the cancerous cells. Like chemotherapy, you may need to visit specialised cancer treatment centers to do this.
- Surgery: Some early-stage cancers can be treated by surgically cutting out the tumour.
Everyone reacts to chemotherapy differently. The medication is targeted to kill cancer cells, but can also kill some of the healthy cells in your body, such as hair, skin, and red blood cells. Unfortunately, this can make people feel quite unwell, even if the medication is working.
Some common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Skin/nail problems
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
Some of these side effects can be managed with other medications from your doctor. Once your treatment ends, most of the side effects will go away in the following weeks. However, some side effects may be permanent. These can include damage to your heart, lungs, or nerve endings.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who gets cancer will die from it. A lot of progress has been made on cancer research and treatments in recent years, and the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths is dropping every year. You are more likely to survive cancer now than at any other point in history.
However, how serious your cancer is will depend a lot on what type it is, how much it has spread, and any other medical conditions you might also have. Your doctor will be able to provide you with more information specific to your case.