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Cancer: The fifth cause of death in Belize

In 2017, cancer was the fifth cause of death in Belize. Some of the common forms of cancer are breast, cervical, colon, and prostate cancer. Cancer occurs in the body when cells deviate from its normal way of forming and start to reproduce abnormally. Dr. Javier Zuniga, Regional Health Manager for Central Health Region explains.


Dr.Javier Zuniga, Regional Health Manager: “Cancer as such, we also have another definition or another term we would use which would be Neoplasm, is basically an uncontrolled replication of cells that then lead to the formation of tumor legion and it could occur in any tissue of the body. This uncontrolled replication that leads to the formation of this tumor has other complications attached to it that can then lead to organ failure and death of the individual. When we speak of Neoplasms or tumors we divide into two categories of tumors; either they’re benign which means they are usually treatable or they have no other complications; in terms of malignant tumors or cancers then there different stages of malignancy but usually this cancer is of an aggressive type that can grow faster, it creates more complications with the surrounding tissues around that tumor but in addition to that it also can disseminate which means it can also spread to other areas of the body. So you might have a tumor for example in the stomach but that tumor then starts to spread up into the local tissues but it can also go to the brain, it can go to the liver, it can go to the bone so that’s when we call it then a malignant neoplasm or tumor.”

Zuniga said that cancer can be genetic or it can develop in one’s body over a period of time.  Dr. Melissa Diaz, Primary Health Coordinator at Central Health Region spoke of the importance of early detection or prevention.


Dr.Melissa Diaz, Primary Health Coordinator Health Region: “When we look at prevention we try to do a lot of health education in terms of the environmental factors or the external factors like if you smoke you are at risk of developing lung cancer. Most of the different lung cancers are directly linked to smoking, there is only one that is not link to smoking so if we can encourage the general public if you do smoke to stop smoking. Obesity and certain types of foods also has a link to developing certain kinds of cancers so we try to advise with regards to reducing processed foods, package foods, canned foods, try to stick to fresh fruits, vegetables, locally bought meats etc. and just to try to do a mix of diet every day, not eat the same thing. When we are talking about other cancers like breast and prostate that many times you don’t have a direct link, it’s nothing external; it could be genetic- in those cases we look at early detection or screening. So screening we are trying to pick up any early changes that may eventually develop into certain cancers so we recommend pap smears for women; the recommendation is between the ages of 24 to 65, you do your pap smear and the pap smear helps to pick up any changes in the cervix that you cannot see with the naked eye. In terms of the prostate cancers the recommendation is for males 50 and over to get again yearly annual prostate exam and the blood test the PSA Test.”

The public is encouraged to get annual tests. Screening tests can be done at the primary health facilities, where patients can be referred for further treatment if any abnormality is found.