World Cancer Day is February 4, 2015. This is a day to focus on raising awareness on a global level of all of the facets of cancer, from diagnosis to remission. The slogan for this year is “not beyond us,” and it embodies a positive, forward-moving platform to address global challenges. The campaign specifically looks at four areas.
The targets in this area look at the effectiveness of patient-centered care in health systems, including vaccinations for cancer-causing diseases. The final focus is on reducing global risk factors for cancer, including obesity, smoking, and unhealthy diets.
The World Cancer Declaration is meant to ensure early detection in all areas of the world, specifically as it relates to environmental causes. Part of early detection is education and innovation in outreach to low-income people around the globe.
Equality of access to treatment
Early detection means nothing if people of all ages, incomes, and regions don’t have equal access to affordable, high-quality treatment options. This includes making sure that cancer patients have access to effective pain relief. World Cancer Day is committed to making this parity of cancer treatment a reality.
Maximum quality of life
Effective cancer treatment is holistic, and World Cancer Day wants to increase awareness of the physical, mental, and emotional toll a cancer diagnosis can have on the patient and his or her caregivers. Ensuring a maximum quality of life includes making sure every patient diagnosed with cancer has access to affordable, effective, high-quality counseling, pain relief, and treatment.
The recurring themes this year are equal access to treatment for everyone, and, more practically, effective pain management. Cancer pain can be one of the most difficult types of pain to manage. There are several causes of cancer pain.
Pain directly caused by tumors
Cancer tumors can cause pain when they are pressing directly on nerves. Some tumors may also release chemicals that can be irritating or inflammation-causing for the surrounding tissues. In some cases, these chemicals can cause the surrounding tissues themselves to become cancerous and cause pain.
Pain caused by treatment
Surgical removal of tumors can cause pain that lingers after the surgery due to nerve damage. Other side effects of any surgery include inflammation in the surrounding areas or infection of the incisions or remaining tissue. Pain can also be caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Cancer pain is one of the more complex types of pain because the patient is not only feeling pain, which is traumatic enough, but he or she is also fighting a condition that can be fatal. The emotional toll of cancer pain can cause a chain reaction of hypersensitivity, which can lead to chronic, intense pain. Add to that the effects of a cancer diagnosis on a cancer patient’s family and the financial strain that can arise from treatment, and fighting cancer pain becomes much more than a one-pronged approach. There are multiple ways to treat cancer pain.
These can range from over-the-counter analgesics to more potent opioids, depending on the intensity and type of pain. Many doctors are working to uncover more alternatives to opioids, as the possibility of dependence is high. Opioids may be used strategically for acute cancer pain, as opposed to using them for chronic pain.
Nerve blocks are injections of pain-blocking medicines such as lidocaine, bupivicaine, and mepivicaine into the affected nerve endings. This essentially blocks the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. If the cancer pain is located in the pelvis or the lower areas of the spine, nerve blocks can be delivered via catheter inserted into the epidural space of the spine. This delivers medication gradually over time, which may help prolong the effects of the treatment while decreasing side effects.
This treatment involves planting a device in the patient’s spine to interfere with the pain signals to the brain. Essentially the signal is disrupted as it leaves the nerve and travels through the nervous system.
While not a stand-alone pain treatment, counseling for the patient and the patient’s family is crucial in fighting cancer pain. Stress and anxiety can heighten the perception of pain, and the presence of a life-threatening illness can be overwhelming and feel impossible to bear. Talking to a qualified counselor about the pain and all of the emotions and fears that arise as part of the diagnosis can be a very positive, life-affirming step for the patient.
With support from the family, the medical team, and the global community surrounding World Cancer Day, now more than ever effective treatment of cancer and cancer pain is possible. By focusing on raising awareness, equalizing treatment opportunities for all, and promoting prevention and early detection, World Cancer Day is sending a positive message of hope. To get involved in your community, take the following actions:
- Use the hashtags #WorldCancerDay and #NotBeyondUs on social media to show your support for the mission of the day.
- Find an event near you and invite friends and family to join you.
- Read and sign the World Cancer Declaration, then encourage your friends to sign and share it as well.
- World Cancer Day is a global event and needs help translating their materials into languages other than French, English, and Spanish. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help!
World Cancer Day is a way to gather around a powerful cause: defeating cancer in our lifetime. It is not beyond us.
How will you recognize and celebrate World Cancer Day?
Image courtesy of UICC