What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease that results when normal cells change and grow in an abnormal and uncontrolled way. In many types of cancer like breast cancer, the uncontrolled growth of cells causes a swelling or lump (called a tumour). However, in other types of cancer like blood cancer (called leukemia), the uncontrolled growth of cells results in an abnormal number of cells which cannot perform their functions.

Common cancers in Uganda

There are more than 200 different types of cancers each with it's own name and treatment. In Uganda the most common types of cancer are: cancer of the cervix, cancer of the breast, cancer of the prostate, kaposis sarcoma, cancer of the ovary, cancer of the colon, cancer of the liver, leukemia, burkitts lymphoma (commonly found in children) etc.

Cancer as part of the health problem in Uganda

Cancer is a non-communicable disease (NCD) which has increasingly contributed to the health burden in the country both socially and economically. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) 22% of all cancers worldwide are as a result of chronic infections and the percentage keeps growing. The fight against Malaria, HIV and AIDS has attracted a lot of resources and the attention of policy makers in Uganda; this has overshadowed the growing problem of cancer in the country. It was not until 2005 that goals and guidelines for control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) became part of the health sector strategic plan and the NCD Unit was established within the Ministry of Health. According to the health workers at the Uganda Cancer Institute, cancer is now on the increase and one of the major causes of deaths in the country. The Uganda Cancer Society with other civil society organisations has started a membership recruitment drive in order to mobilize resources and create awareness in the fight against cancer in Uganda.

Chart showing cancer deaths in Uganda

According to International Agency for Research on Cancer under

What causes cancer?

There are different factors that add up for someone to suffer from cancer. There is no single cause for any type of cancer. Cancer is not like AIDS which is caused by HIV. There are different factors (risk factors) which put someone in danger of developing cancer. Some of the risks include:
  • Genetic make-up
  • History of cancer in the family
  • Age
  • History of having suffered from cancer
  • Early sexual exposure and many sexual partners
  • Tobacco use
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity
  • Exposure to too much sunshine

Who suffers from cancer?

Any one can suffer from cancer: men, women and children (boys and girls) of all tribes, age groups, occupations and professions. Everyone can suffer from cancer at any time!!

NB: Cancer is not contagious! Getting in contact with someone who has cancer does not increase ones danger of suffering from cancer.

How can we reduce the danger of suffering from cancer?
  1. Healthy eating
    • Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Reduce eating fatty and oily foods, eg. pork, fatty meat, chips, etc
  2. Do regular and frequent physical activity.
  3. Do not use tobacco or its products in any form.
  4. Do not drink alcohol or reduce if you already drink.
  5. Abstain from sex if not yet married and be faithful to your partner if married.
  6. Avoid HIV or seek treatment if you are already positive.