When I was in university I took a course that taught me to do research good. Real good. Here is a paper I had to write in that course demonstrating that I could do such good research. The topic was on cancer in Canada, and this was the result.
It’s written in academic style, so the references are at the end.
Cancer in Canada: What are the Chances?
We’ve all seen cancer patients, either on television or in real life. Some of us know them personally. Some of us have the misfortune of seeing them go. Fighting Goliath they seem to maintain a constant look of endurance on their face. They’re fighting an enemy on the inside, while the world can only look on, waving pompoms and perhaps lending a weapon or two.
But what if the battle were preventable? A few lifestyle choices may have scared the giant from coming their way in the first place. Today’s young people can only see a bright future ahead of them, without considering that the quality of their life is in danger of being impaired. This report attempts to answer the following question: How often did Canadians of different sex, age and geographic region develop cancer between 2001 and 2005 and are there preventable measures to take in order to avoid getting the disease? In exploring published research on the topic, this report will expose the likelihood of obtaining cancer and the steps that young people can take to prevent its onset. In particular, this report will highlight cases of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. In spite of the fact that lung cancer takes the lead in the number of incidents, prostate and breast cancer were chosen for their prevalence among males and females respectively, in comparison to other cancers. Finally this report will make suggestions to the Canadian Cancer Society as to how this information can be used to increase awareness among young people who face the risk of developing cancer as the population ages.
Cancer in Canada
According to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2005, a publication produced by a team of Canadian cancer research organizations, an estimated 149,000 Canadians were diagnosed with Cancer in 2005, 76,200 of them males and 72,800 of them females. Of those numbers, 21,600 cases were women diagnosed with breast cancer and 20,500 were men diagnosed with prostate cancer (CCS/NCIC, 2005). Looking back four years in 2001, those numbers have not changed much, with 18,669 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 20,349 men diagnosed with prostate cancer (Statistics Canada, 2004). A total of 69,500 people died from Cancer in 2005 (CCS/NCIC, 2005). Current research shows that 38 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men in Canada can expect to get cancer in their lifetime.
Trends of Cancer in Canada
More people seem to develop cancer in Eastern Canada than in the West (CCS/NCIC, 2005). In Ontario, 2005 figures showed that an estimated 28,500 men and 27,700 women developed cancer whereas B.C. victims stood at nearly one third that number with 10,200 and 9,100 new cases respectively. Interestingly, Prince Edward Island showed the lowest number of incidents at just 420 male cases and 350 female cases. Other Maritime provinces also showed significantly lower rates than both Ontario and B.C. combined. This is likely a result of lower population densities in the Maritime area compared to Ontario or B.C. (CCS/NCIC, 2005). Figure 1 outlines these numbers.
In 2001, Statistics Canada numbers showed a gradual increased risk of developing and dying from cancer that corresponded with increasing age. At age 30, men had a 0.7 per cent chance of dying from cancer. At age 40, the number skipped to 1.6 per cent, and at age 50 stood at 5.6 per cent. Among women, the chances were 1.1 per cent at age 30, 2.9 per cent at age 40 and 6 per cent at age 50 (StatisticsCanada, 2001). Figure 2 displays these numbers. In 2003, the chance of developing cancer (as opposed to developing and dying from the disease) for all ages was 41.2 per cent for men and 37.6 per cent for women. Men had a 12 per cent chance of getting prostate cancer while women had an 11.4 per cent chance of getting breast cancer (Statistics Canada, 2003).
Factors Behind the Disease
There are several factors that can influence the onset of cancer, including alcohol consumption, sun exposure, and the environment. Due to the limited nature of this report, it will delve into only three of those factors: diet, exercise and smoking. These three factors were chosen for two reasons. Firstly, because of their relevance to Canadian young people, toward whom this report is directed. Not to say that sun exposure is not applicable to Canadian young people, but perhaps it is arguably less applicable than say, Southern U.S. young people who face the sun year-round. Secondly, they were chosen for the fact that they are easily alterable factors. Again, not to say that alcohol consumption is not easily alterable, but certainly it has not proven to be as addictive or damaging as a drug like tobacco (except, of course, in cases where it is abused).
It should come as no surprise that North Americans consume way too much fat. Fast food restaurants and food-to-go in grocery stores that are packed with unhealthy ingredients, such as hydrogenated oils, trans fat and saturated fat, have become the norm in our society. Although research to date has not been able to prove a direct link between diet and cancer development, there have been significant studies that strongly suggest the link exists. In 1988, Science News published a report describing a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute whereby 180 at-risk patients were divided into two groups and put on two different diets. The fist diet, considered “typical” for North America, consisted of 37 per cent fat calories and 43 per cent carbohydrate calories (Science News, 1988, para. 2). The second diet reduced the fat energy source to 15 to 20 per cent and increased carbohydrate intake to 56 per cent. At the end of one year the high-fat diet group turned over five new cancer patients while the low-fat diet group turned over just two. Although the numbers may not seem so significant at first glance, the main factor to notice is the rapid effectiveness that decreased-fat intake had on the patients. The article quotes one Canadian researcher on the study, Mary Cousins, as saying, “We didn’t expect to see this in such a short period of time” (Science News, 1988, para. 3).
Two years later, Science News published yet another report, this time on a study done by the Cancer Control Agency of British Columbia. Research found that eating vegetables and taking vitamin A supplements reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by more than 50 per cent. High-fat diets, on the other hand, tripled the chances of women developing the disease (Raloff, 1990).
The Progress Report on Cancer Control, published online by the Public Health Agency of Canada, points to a possible correlation between a reduction of saturated fat intake in Canada during the 1980s and a decline in colorectal cancer incidents. The report also states that in 2001, about 60 per cent of Canadians did not eat enough fruits and vegetables required to maintain good health. The highest numbers showed in age groups between 20 and 44, with men taking about a 10 per cent lead over women in maintaining unhealthy diets (PHAC, 2004, Figure 9). However, the good news is that, according to the same report, fruit and vegetable intake steadily increased between 1963 and 1998 (PHAC, 2004, Figure 10). The report connects a decrease in cancer risk to these figures.
The Progress Report on Cancer Control mentioned above states that the risk of developing breast cancer can be reduced by up to 40 per cent by living an active lifestyle. Likewise, the risk of developing prostate cancer can be reduced by up to 30 per cent. Unfortunately, the report also notes that, as of 2001, more than 50 per cent of Canadians were “physically inactive.” Men in this regard were 10 per cent more active than women, who stood at 54 per cent inactivity. Interestingly, B.C. showed a less than 45 per cent inactivity rate while all the Maritime provinces stood at over 50 per cent inactivity, even surpassing Ontario’s inactivity level. Considering cancer trends mentioned above, this proves somewhat of a contradiction. However, as also mentioned above, population figures must also be accounted for in deciphering the correlation between activity levels and cancer rates.
When most of us hear the words ‘smoking’ and ‘cancer’ together, we automatically think of cancer in the lungs. However, smoking can be associated with roughly 30 per cent of cancer incidents and deaths, including those of the breasts and those related to the digestive system. Luckily, the popularity of smoking appears to be in decline. In 1965, Canada had only a 50 per cent smoke-free population. By 2002, the country’s population was nearly 70 per cent smoke-free. Interestingly again, B.C. seems to inhabit less smokers than in Atlantic Canada. The Progress Report on Cancer Control claims that lung cancer rates have decreased as a result of the decline in tobacco use (PHAC, 2004).
Conclusion and Recommendations
It has been seen that cancer is a disease that is not only prevalent in our society, but a disease that has potential to attack anybody. However, research studies have unveiled clues which suggest that a few lifestyle choices can play a significant role on the health of Canadians. While cancer is most prevalent in an aging population, young people who will eventually grow into the shoes of their predecessors need to be aware of the factors that affect the onset of cancerous diseases. In the previous section, factors that contributed to the disease were shown to be societal habits that were in decline over the last few decades. Therefore, since the situation has improved and we are now seeing a simultaneous decline in the number of cancer incidents, we can be sure that continuing in this fashion will only heighten the success of our battle against cancer in all of its forms. While researchers make efforts to find a cure, the population also needs to take an active part in creating a healthy, cancer-free society, namely by cutting down on fat intake, increasing physical activity and making smart choices in regards to smoking (i.e. quitting or not starting in the first place). Of course, using sunscreen and limiting alcohol intake are factors that cannot be ignored, though they were not investigated in detail here.
Changing minds means creating awareness and creating awareness means reaching out to the audience whom we intend to influence. Campaigns promoting healthy lifestyles and informing young people about the risks related to cancer and their exposure to them should be implemented immediately. Not only that, ideas for solutions to living a healthy lifestyle in the midst of a fast-paced society should accompany the awareness campaign. These campaigns should be carried out in areas where young people are found. For example, universities, malls and movie theatres are good places to start.
Breast Cancer: Low-fat finding. (1988). Science News, 134(19), 302. Retrieved January 25, 2006, from EBSCOhost.
Canadian Cancer Society/National Cancer Institute of Canada: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2005,Toronto, Canada, 2005.
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). (Last updated 2004). Cancer Prevention. Progress Report on Cancer Control in Canada. Retrieved February 1, 2006, from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/prccc-relccc/chap_3_e.html
Raloff, J. (1990). Diet and Cancer: Timing Makes a Difference. Science News, 137(6), 84. Retrieved January 25, 2006, from EBSCOhost.
Statistics Canada. (2001). National Cancer Institute of Canada. Lifetime probability of developing and dying from cancer (Probability of developing cancer by age (30-50). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2001. Retrieved February 1, 2006, from http://www40. statcan.ca/l01/cst01/ health25b.htm
Statistics Canada. (2003). National Cancer Institute of Canada. Lifetime probability of developing and dying from cancer. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2003. Retrieved February 1, 2006, from http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/health25a.htm?sdi=cancer
Statistics Canada. (2004, July). New cancer cases, by primary site of cancer, by sex. Canadian Cancer Registry Database. (Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 84-601-XIE). Retrieved February 1, 2006, from http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/ hlth61.htm?sdi=cancer