“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” — Hippocrates
Let the truth be known that many of us are more concerned about our outlook appearances than what is going on inside us. When it comes to our health, we often do not prioritise it as our number one. In fact, it is often consigned to number four or five on the list. We are often chasing money, prestige, adulation, and physical trappings of wealth more than being concerned about health.
We often switch off, whenever health is mentioned. Our self-denial is costing us dearly; high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer. Last month in the UK, the month of July was dedicated to ethnic minority cancer awareness month and I ran some sessions on raising awareness about bowel cancer.
Over the years, concerns were raised about the health of black people and more so in diaspora, where you assume that with better health care facilities that people will readily present to the doctor when there is a concern about their health. No, sadly this is not the case. In the UK and US, the health of black people is far worse than the white population.
What we know, is the black community suffers poorer health than any other groups. They do not access health care services nor do they present early but are more likely to present later when their health has rapidly deteriorated. This is mainly due to lack of awareness, health inequalities, denial, poverty and our culture. Sadly, many black people tend to be diagnosed when the disease is more advanced, which can lead to poorer survival rates. In a country like Nigeria, where the poor cannot afford good health care, health promotion should be the cornerstone of a good and robust health care programme. But it is not as those that have money go abroad for their health care needs. It is left for the majority to look after their own health and their family. Sometimes, it seems that people are more concerned about survival, that there is no room for medical intervention. Much so the pity.
In the US, 43% of African descents do not know anything about breast screening and prostate cancer and yet breast and prostate cancer kills more black men and women. What we know is that many black women say they are not sure what to look for when examining their breasts and black men, well; they would not examine their scrotum to check for changes. Many of our people believe that cancers only happen to white people or those that do not pray hard enough… it often noted that when cancer is first diagnosed, a black person is more likely to head to church for spiritual deliverance rather than medical intervention, they are also less likely to share their health condition with anyone even their closest family member or friends. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong in seeking spiritual support but it is important to seek medical intervention for a physical ailment. After all it is true that give unto Caesar’s, which is Caesar, there is room for every intervention.
In the UK, black men are seven times more likely to get prostate cancer in later life, they are also likely to get type 2 diabetes and most of this often runs in families and yet the family refuses to get checked or become aware of the family component to prevent and arrest the disease. We are very poor at promoting public health awareness amongst our communities when it does not come to screening, nor do we know where to go (other than the church) and to get help.
Once again, let me assure you that, like most cancers, if caught early, are treatable and have good survival rates. Last month in the UK was bowel cancer awareness month and we highlighted the importance to screen early. Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or colon cancer, is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage). It usually grows very slowly over a period of up to 10 years, before it starts to spread and affect other parts of the body. What to look for – persistent bleeding and blood found in the stool, unexplained rapid weight loss, extreme tiredness and a painful lump in the stomach area.
Blood in the stool should not be confused with piles and constipation. In particular, where there is dark blood mixed with the stool is more likely to be due to cancer.
The main risk factors in bowel cancer are such as red meat, goat, beef, duck, pork and lamb, obesity, type 2 diabetes, alcohol consumption and lack of physical activities. Be mindful of the way it is cooked especially when it comes to barbeque or roasting as the process itself can be cancer causing.
Age is another risk factor as the older one gets, the more risk of contracting bowel cancer, this is not to say it does not occur in young people but majority of bowel cancer cases, is amongst the older people over 55 years. So the older one gets the more likelihood of getting bowel cancer. It is important to know the family medical history as it does have some family connection especially in first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, children) or many other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, cousins) have had bowel cancer. Family connection does double the average risk of bowel cancer.
If one has a condition called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, may develop chronic inflammation of the large intestine, which increases the risk of colon cancer. IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome.
How do you get tested? First of all, see your doctor then you may be required to do a stool sample screen and that can detect if there is blood in the faecal matter. The Faecal occult blood test (FOBT is an effective way to show if there is any sign of polyps or cancer. A positive FOBT test, meaning that blood is found in the faeces, can be from causes other than a colon polyp or cancer, including bleeding in the stomach or upper GI tract and even ingestion of rare meat or other foods.
The next step is going for a colonoscopy, which is a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscopy is inserted into the rectum and the entire colon to look for polyps or cancer. During this procedure, a doctor can remove polyps or other tissue. This is the only screening test that allows the removal of polyps, which can also prevent colorectal cancer. If has been diagnosed, depending on the stage of the cancer from stage one to stage four. If it is at stage one to two, where the plops are still within lining of the stomach walls then a surgical operation is needed to have removal of the cancerous cells and the prognoses during the stage is over 85% of survival after five years.
If on the other hand if it had spread from the lining to the lymph nodes and to major organs then , it would need extra medical intervention.