Less sleep among top ‘causes of cancer surge’

sleep, enough sleep, heart health, cardiovascular diseases

Having enough time in slumberland can not only help prolong life, but also keep off an array of cardiovascular health complications

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

Smoking, lack of sleep, drinking too much alcohol and obesity have been identified as some of the reasons for the high number of cancer cases.

These causes can be prevented, a study published in The Lance states, adding nearly half of cancer deaths globally are due to preventable causes. The research found that 44 per cent of cancer deaths were caused by the four reasons in 2019.

“With the risks that have been identified in the study. It represents the largest efforts to determine the risk attributed to the high numbers. We can reduce the numbers should we avoid the risks,” says Dr Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The paper examined 23 cancer types and 34 risk factors. It collected and analysed global data on cancer deaths and disability from 2010 to 2019 across 204 countries. From the findings, tracheal, bronchus and lung cancers for both men and women were leading types associated with risk attributable deaths globally in 2019.

Cancer deaths

The data also showed that risk-attributable cancer deaths have increased by 21 per cent in the last nine years, with Central Europe, East Asia, North America, southern Latin America and Western Europe some of the leading regions. “These findings highlight those potential ways for prevention of cancer cases and deaths through reducing exposure to known cancer risk factors. Adding that the risk must be coupled with comprehensive cancer control strategies that include efforts to support early diagnosis and effective treatment," it states.

On lack of sleep, it says the disruption in the body’s “biological clock”, which controls sleep and thousands of other functions, may raise the odds of cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate. Exposure to light while working overnight for several years may reduce melatonin levels and encourage cancer to grow. In 2007, the World Health Organisation classified night work that causes lack of sleep as a probable carcinogen due to circadian disruption.

The study advises people to modify their way of life and behaviour through more exercises, reduced alcohol consumption and smoking and adequate sleep. In many low- and middle-income countries, most cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited.

In a separate study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that women working rotating night shifts for five or more years appeared to have a modest increase in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality

While those working 15 or more years of rotating night shift appeared to have a modest increase in lung cancer mortality.

 “It’s important to keep up with recommended cancer screenings including mammograms, screening tests for colorectal cancer, and prostate more so if you are a night shift worker,” says the study.

The study recommends and advises people to modify their way of life and behaviour by doing more exercises, reducing alcohol consumption and smoking and having enough sleep when necessary.

The continued impact of tobacco despite approximately 65 years of linkage to cancer remains very problematic. The increasing cancer numbers related to obesity clearly demands our attention,"

“Improving on our behaviours together with primary cancer prevention could save millions of lives,” says the study. The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cancer kills around 30,000 people in Kenya every year, while 47,000 are diagnosed with the disease in the same period. Like other developing countries, the increasing number of cancer patients is putting additional strain on health services.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death after non-communicable diseases. In 2020, some 8.3 per cent of the deaths in Kenya were from cancer. Cancer has also been the leading killer disease among those aged 50-59, accounting for 12.7 per cent of the deaths. The illness led to more deaths in females than males at 9.3 and 7.6 per cent respectively.

Cancer affects Kenyans of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds but disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable.

Cervical cancer makes up the largest portion of the cases (nearly 12 per cent), followed by breast, Kaposi’s sarcoma, oesophageal and prostate cancers.

In many low and middle-income countries, including Kenya, most cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited.

Families make huge sacrifices, often with poor results. It is estimated that 70 to 80 per cent of cancer cases diagnosed in Kenya are at advanced stages, with high rates of misdiagnosis and inadequate screening hindering early detection.