BY MICHELLE C MADZUDZO
At the present moment, the COVID-19 pandemic is the focus of the global community and an all-consuming thought to the healthcare system worldwide. As we continue to endeavour in the fight against the virus in Zimbabwe, let us also bear in mind that we also need to raise awareness of and spending towards brain cancer research, detection and treatment during this month.
In recognition of the international brain cancer awareness month which is May, Talk Cancer Zim today offers you an insight on the malignancy. Although brain cancer only makes a very small percentage of all cancers in Zimbabwe, the reality of its lasting and life-altering cognitive, physical, psychological compromises from brain cancer make it particularly very scary.
What are the risk factors?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lot of anxiety, depression and stress that can be going on in people’s lives and there is some notion that chronic stress could be somehow linked to cancer. There is no clear evidence that stress directly causes cancer, let alone brain cancer. The fact is that stress prompts people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking excessive amounts and overeating. At the end of the day, it’s only wise to conclude that it’s not stress that causes cancer but it’s the unhealthy behaviours that come with being stressed.
Understanding the risk factors for any disease can help provide guidance on how to reduce incidences. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of conclusive research towards the environmental risk factors for brain cancer, the only clear hazard is exposure to ionising radiation. The other factor is family history and genetic predisposition though this correlation is not very strong. On the other hand, there are anti-cancer behaviours that could help prevent brain cancer. These are dietary factors such as eating of fruits and vegetables by mothers during pregnancy and by children in early stages of life.
Signs and symptoms one should be aware of
Because of the widespread pandemic, patients may start to fear a COVID-19 diagnosis more than brain cancer. As a result potential brain cancer, patients’ minds are now directed towards COVID-19 symptoms which are as follows:
- Fever of at least 380C
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Loss of smell and taste
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing up sputum
It is my advice for the general population to be aware of the above COVID-19 symptoms and at the same time not to downplay the following signs and symptoms that may be suggestive of brain cancer:
- New onset or change in the pattern of headaches
- Headaches that gradually become more frequent and severe
- Unexplained nausea and vomit
- Vision problems such as blurred vision, double vision, loss of peripheral vision
- Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or leg
- Difficulty with balance
- Speech difficulties
- Personality or behavioural changes
- Hearing problems
Please make an appointment with a doctor if symptoms persist
Treatment options available
- If you have a brain tumour, treatment will depend on:
- The type of tumour
- Its location in the brain
- How big it is
- How abnormal the cells are
- Overall health and fitness
In summary, treatment includes steroids, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Brain cancer patients may still face anxious wait as health institutions continue to manage coronavirus risk and limit patient load in healthcare facilities. Patients, doctors and researchers try not to panic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Treatments have been switched around, surgeries postponed, radiotherapy treatments shelved. Newly diagnosed patients, those with metastatic disease and those who were on treatment in pre-COVID-19 times are now being treated but the negative consequence of the pandemic are now clear, cancer did not wait, most of the cases are now advanced and this has a huge impact on the mortality of cancer. Such is cancer treatment in times of this COVID-19 pandemic in the country at least for the time being. The silver lining is that such a crisis drives innovation and patient-centred care. In the oncology field, we have a strong foundation of science, clinical studies upon which to build more effective brain cancer treatments, more options and a better understanding of how to personalise cancer care.
Are brain cancer patients at risk of COVID-19?
Infection is one of the biggest risks for cancer patients, whether the common cold or worse, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can weaken the immune system making cancer patients prone to infections such as COVID-19.
Patients are, therefore, advised to keep their immune system strong by doing the following:
- Get plenty restful sleep
- Eat a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes
- Eat lean meats and fish in moderation
- Avoid processed and charred meats
- Eliminate alcohol and tobacco products
- Exercise and stay active
- Keep your system well hydrated ,drink water
If everyone helps to do their part, the COVID-19 pandemic should not be a threat to us, we will all get through this better as a community making sure we do what is best for you and everyone going through this incredibly challenging COVID-19 pandemic. Always remember to sanitise your hands, wear a mask, observe social distancing and get vaccinated. Once the worst of the crisis passes, cancer and all the other health conditions will get the priority they deserve, in the meantime, let us all stay at home and help flatten the curve.
- Michelle C Madzudzo is the Talk Cancer Zim founder