Despite the marvels of modern medical technology different forms of cancer are raging worldwide for various reasons. Yesterday was world head and neck cancer day and the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncology Societies says the burden of this form of cancer is putting a strain on the national health care systems and impoverishing individuals, families and society.
In a statement the federation says it now has the support from 55 such societies around the world, numerous governments and civil society organizations. Many events were to held to mark this day, to disseminate knowledge related to prevention, early detection, affordable care, evidence based management and rehabilitation.
The federation has urged governments and cancer societies to concentrate this year on educating the physicians on early diagnosis, current treatment paradigms, reaching new frontiers in research work, awareness programmes for the people, free screening for head and neck cancers, interaction with cancer survivors and their families and interaction between governments and policy makers.
In Sri Lanka also events were held yesterday to mark this day and oncologists disclosed that up to 14 percent of Sri Lanka’s cancer patients were suffering from oral cancer. They have identified regular or excessive betel chewing as one of the main causes. Some health experts also believe the excessive use of agrochemicals and the consequent pollution or poisoning of the food we eat may be emerging as another main cause for the growing number of oral and throat cancer victims. They point out that some of these victims do not drink alcohol, smoke, chew beetle and some are even vegetarians. Thus the possible cause could be the agro chemicals.
During the past few months the Health and Indigenous Medicine ministry has been broadcasting effective messages showing the dangers of betel chewing which has been an ancient habit in Sri Lanka specially among village people, including women, and the poor apparently because they cannot afford any other form of “ getting a kick”. Betel chewing is also knowing to be addictive and modern medical research has substantial evidence that tobacco leaves and arecanut, popularly known as ‘Dumkola and puwak’, could cause grave harm including malignant cancer.
With President Maithripala Sirisena himself focusing much attention on curbing the use of tobacco and alcohol, mainly through an intensified campaign by the National Alcohol and Tobacco Authority (NATA), we urge that the government should sponsor print media advertisements, television or radio programmes preferably at peak times to make the people aware of the dangers of betel chewing. Private media groups also need to give more time and space for issues such as these because good health is vital for sustainable all inclusive development. Unfortunately as we have pointed out earlier, TV channels give most of their prime time to highly profitable tele-dramas, with literary critics questioning some of the values these tele-dramas appear to be promoting.
Another point we need to chew, is how and with what we brush our teeth once or twice a day. In this era of modern marketing, various brands of tooth pastes are being effectively promoted but some health experts say the best way to clean the teeth is to get back to our good old charcoal. This may sound ridiculous in this modern day and age of digital technology. But gradually we are realizing that some old practices are more safe and effectuation and they come at little or no cause. Charcoal for the teeth is one such issue and if we don’t believe it we could at least try it out in practice and see the proof of it.