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‘Tobacco abuse, alcohol, oral sex fuel rise in throat cancers’

By Chukwuma Muanya
15 July 2021   |   4:04 am
Medical experts have raised alarm over rise in oral and throat cancers occasioned by abuse of tobacco, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and indiscriminate oral sex. Oral and throat cancers are part of head and neck cancers.

Throat cancers

*Experts warn that breast, cervical, prostate cancers have taken epidemic proportions due to absence of screening
*How overuse of antibiotics, spending 17 minutes daily on smartphones raise risk of tumours by 60%, by studies

Medical experts have raised alarm over rise in oral and throat cancers occasioned by abuse of tobacco, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and indiscriminate oral sex. Oral and throat cancers are part of head and neck cancers.

Chief Consultant Clinical and Radiation Oncologist, President, Nigeria Cancer Society (NCS), President, African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), and former Vice President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Bello Abubakar Mohammed, told The Guardian that the rise is largely due to increased cigarette and alcohol consumption. He said: “You know that most of the alcohol and tobacco companies have relocated to Africa because of tariffs in America and Europe. So there is a steady rise since the 90s.

“Another factor is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that is sexually transmitted. So, yes if anyone contacts HPV through oral sex, they could have oral cancers.”

The oncologist said the solution is to put stringent laws against companies producing alcohol and tobacco and also to enforce the laws stopping smoking in public places

Mohammed said most cancers are on the rise “since we have no National Screening programmes in place. Breast, cervical and prostate cancers have taken epidemic proportions in Nigeria.”

President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, told The Guardian that the risk factors generally include cigarette smoking (plus alcohol significantly increases the risk), human papilloma virus (from orogenital sex), poor oral hygiene, amongst other causes.

Okhuaihesuyi said the ‘recent rise’ may be attributed to increase awareness among population generally leading to more diagnosis of the condition as opposed to the past where not many of the patients having the disease present to the hospital. He also blamed the increase on rate of ‘abnormal’ sexual behaviours.

The NARD President said oral sex may be implicated since human papilloma virus is a risk factor thus, an individual with poorly treated genital wart engaging in such sexual act might increase the risk (though no direct causality).

On how to reverse the trend, Okhuaihesuyi said: “Through revention or reducing the risk factors as highlighted above. Public awareness/enlightenment on these risk factors. Also, early diagnosis may aid good outcome of treatment thus, any individual with suspicious symptomatology should quickly present to the hospital.”

President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, said: “I am sorry that I do not have evidence to make contribution to this issue. One reported case of cancer death could not just be attributed to oral sex. We need to look at smoking, also, as an important factor.”

Commenting on the issue, Medical Director, Mart Art Clinic, Maryland, Ikeja and Joint Pioneer of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Nigeria, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, agreed that the incidence of oral cancer is on the rise. “About 650,000 people get oral cancer every year. It is most likely due the increase in the causative factors. Alcohol consumption is a causative factor and the consumption of alcohol had been in the increase especially with the lockdown,” Ashiru said.

He added: “This is followed by a higher risk factor of tobacco smoking. People who smoke and take alcohol are equally at greater risk. The next factor is poor diet and low social conditions. The highest risk factor is with oral sex. This is due to the Hunan Papilloma Virus (HPV) that has been linked to cervical cancer in women. If it gets into the throat, it becomes the number one cause of oral cancer.”

Is oral sex implicated? “Absolutely,” Ashiru said. He said prolong exposures to sunlight are linked to cancer of skin and lips, and besides oral/throat cancers, there is rise in other cancers.

Ashiru said another cause of rise in cancers are environmental toxins. “They include cosmetics. For example studies show that women take up to 7 pounds (3.175 kilogrammes) of lipstick in a lifetime. Others toxins are the pesticides, petrochemicals and more,” he said.

According to a recent study published in the journal Annals of Medical & Health Science Research and titled “Emerging Trends in the Epidemiological Pattern of Head and Neck Cancers in Lagos, Nigeria”, Head and neck cancers (HNCs) are a wide range of malignant tumours found in anatomical sites, such as the oral cavity, ear, scalp, nasal cavities, paranasal sinuses, nasopharynx, hypopharynx, oropharynx, salivary glands, facial soft tissue, malignant neck masses, thyroid, and eye. They present with various biological patterns and are unique due to delicate structures in the head and neck region.”

The researchers from the Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Anatomic and Molecular Pathology, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba and Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Lagos (LASUTH), Ikeja, said: “The occurrence of HNC malignant neoplasms is largely due to multiple factors which can be broadly classified as environmental and genetic. Environmental factors include: usage and consumption of tobacco and alcohol in various forms, improper nutrition, as well as oncogenic virus infection, such as human papilloma virus in laryngeal cancer. Other causes include excessive consumption of Chinese-style salted foods, industrial pollution, medication use, and race. Interactions between these factors have been reported to account for the development of HNC.”

According to the study, cancer is rapidly becoming a public health crisis in low- and middle-income countries. “It remains a leading non-communicable disease in Africa, and it is also emerging as a great burden when compared to infections that are ravaging the continent. The triad of ignorance, poverty, and poor health-seeking behaviour makes Africa vulnerable to the cancer burden, irrespective of gender and age. Approaches to minimize the burden of cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years have had little success. Reasons include the low awareness of the cancer burden and a poor understanding of the potential for preventing cancer,” it noted.

The researchers added: “The lesions clinically present in different ways depending on the anatomical site of tumor origin and stage of the disease. Early-stage HNCs often present with diverse and on occasion unspecific signs and symptoms. However, a number of HNCs present late due to the obscure nature of their anatomical site of occurrence, thereby making early diagnosis and management difficult.

“Various histological types of HNC have been identified; with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) reported to account for over 90 per cent of HNCs and lymphomas for 10 per cent constituting the second most common primary malignancy of the head and neck region.”

MEANWHILE, new research indicates that increased use of antibiotics is linked to a greater risk of colon cancer, particularly in people under the age of 50 years. The new data reinforce the need to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics, which can put individuals at further risk of health problems.

Antibiotics are extremely helpful in the treatment of infections. However, scientists are still learning about health problems that result from antibiotic use and overuse.

Results of a new study, which were shared at the European Society for Medical Oncology World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer 2021, indicate that people, especially those under the age of 50 years, may be at an increased risk of colon cancer due to the use of antibiotics.

This new information reinforces the importance of careful prescription of antibiotics and potentially adds weight to arguments for colon cancer screening among younger people.

ALSO, a surprising study found that using a mobile phone for as little as 17 minutes per day over 10 years increases the risk of developing cancerous tumours by 60 per cent.

The controversial research involved statistical analysis of 46 different studies into mobile phone use and health around the world, by experts from University of California (UC) Berkeley, United States (US).

They found that using a mobile for 1,000 hours, or roughly 17 minutes per day over a ten year period, increased the risk of developing cancerous tumours by 60 per cent.

Researchers say that radiation from mobile signals ‘interfere with cellular mechanisms’ and can result in the creation of stress proteins that cause DNA damage, tumours and even cell death in extreme cases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) denies any link, saying there is ‘no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cell phones.’

Berkeley experts examined earlier studies carried out in the U.S., Sweden, United Kingdom (UK), Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand to get a broad picture of mobile use and health.

The rate of mobile phone ownership is increasing, with studies showing a rise from 87 per cent of homes having at least one device in 2011, to over 95 per cent in 2020.

Study author Joel Moskowitz said people should minimise time on mobile phones, keep them away from their body and use a landline for calls where possible. The findings have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.