The prevalence of cancer has reached alarming levels around the globe, where 11 million people get cancer each year and 7 million die as a result. The need for cancer control policies at both national and global levels has become urgent.
Turkey, where 150,000 individuals are diagnosed with cancer each year, launched the National Cancer Control Program in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2010.
The ministry aims to decrease cancer mortality rates with a 15 percent decrease in smoking-related cancers and a 10 percent decrease in all types of cancer with this program by 2015. It also aims to be among the few countries in the world that have managed to bring the increase in the number of cancer cases under control by 2020. As part of the program, cancer registration centers have been opened in various provinces. These centers collect and transfer correct and reliable data in relation to cancer incidences in Turkey by applying global registration methods, and the Turkish Ministry of Health plans to increase the number of provinces with these registration centers in the near future. Early Cancer Diagnosis, Screening and Education Centers (KETEM) have also been established in each province as part of the National Cancer Control Program to create more successful cancer-fighting projects.
Another effective step taken by Turkey against cancer was the smoking ban, which came into force on May 19, 2008. With the ban, smoking was prohibited in enclosed areas of all institutions, public and private, as well as in the education, healthcare and trade sectors, social and cultural centers and all mass transportation vehicles, including taxis. By doing this, the Ministry of Health aimed to decrease tobacco consumption, shown to be one of the most common causes of the disease.
The Ministry of Health, which released a written statement to mark the occasion of National Cancer Week, held between April 1 and 7, reported on Monday that annually, 100,000 out of 150,000 new cancer cases are caused by smoking and also noted that by simply decreasing tobacco consumption, two-thirds of new cancer cases could be prevented in Turkey.
Taking all these developments in the fight against cancer into consideration, Turkish Health Care Workers’ Union (Türk Sağlık-Sen) President Önder Kahveci told Sunday’s Zaman that with the National Cancer Control Program, Turkey had become more successful in anti-cancer projects, cancer screening and prevention efforts and in promoting awareness of the benefits of early detection.
Kahveci said increasing the number of KETEM centers was an important step in terms of the effectiveness of anti-cancer programs and added that more should be done to raise public awareness of the disease. Stating that the ministry’s tobacco control program had been successful, Kahveci added that because smoking-related cancers, such as trachea and lung cancers, are common in Turkey, the ban on smoking has contributed to the decrease of such cancer types to some degree since it first came into force.
On the question of how effective Turkey is in treating the disease, Turkish Association for Cancer Research and Control (TKASK) President Tezer Kutluk told Sunday’s Zaman that there are three outstanding types of treatment for cancer; surgery, in which cancer tissues are removed; chemotherapy treatment; and radiotherapy treatment. “Turkey has reached a 66 percent success rate in cancer treatment in recent years overall. This rate increases to 90 percent success for certain types of cancer such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, Hodgkin’s disease [a type of lymphoma, which is a cancer originating from white blood cells called lymphocytes] and testicular cancer,” he noted. Dr. Kutluk said there are advanced cancer treatment facilities in Turkey, therefore cancer patients no longer need to go abroad to receive high-quality cancer treatment.
Supporting the smoking ban, Kutluk said the most efficacious preventative measure against cancer is banning tobacco consumption because smoking is the most common cause of cancer, a total of one-third of all cancer cases. “Turkey has reached a remarkable point in decreasing the use of tobacco,” Kutluk stated. Drawing attention to the obesity problem as also being among the most typical causes of cancer, Kutluk said obesity is also a significant risk factor and the ministry should conduct activities to raise public awareness of that issue in the same way it does for smoking.
Highlighting the importance of early diagnosis, primarily for some types of cancer such as colorectal, breast, cervical and prostate cancer, Kutluk said cancer screening should be done regularly in people over 50 for colorectal cancer, in men over 50 for prostate cancer, and in women over 40 for breast and cervical cancer.
Kutluk also noted that people should stop smoking, using alcohol and should eat healthily and increase their physical activity in order to decrease their chances of developing cancer.
What is cancer?
Defining the disease, Professor Mustafa Yaylacı, an oncologist at the Kartal Dr. Lütfi Kırdar Research and Training Hospital, told Sunday’s Zaman that cancer occurs when cells divide and grow uncontrollably in an organ of the body. These cells form malignant tumors in the organ and invade nearby organs in the body, leaving all organs unable to do their jobs properly.
When asked what the causes of the disease are, Yaylacı said they are varied, but the most common ones are tobacco consumption, hereditary factors, environmental factors, exposure to chemical substances and malnutrition.
Regarding the cancers caused by the tobacco consumption, Yaylacı said harmful toxins and chemical substances found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke create a significant risk factor for developing cancer. He added that smoking not only causes lung cancer, which is prevalent among men in Turkey, but can also cause kidney, pancreatic, cervical and stomach cancers as well as acute myeloid leukemia.
Yaylacı also stated that there are some cancer types which generally occur for hereditary reasons. “Individuals, who have a family history of cancer, primarily for colorectal cancer and breast cancer, have a higher chance of developing these cancers. The cases of cancer seen due to hereditary factors only constitute 5 percent of all cancer types,” Yaylacı added.