“Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees; it brought me to my feet.”
With these words in 2012 Hollywood actor Michael Douglas laid bare his battle with throat cancer.
The struggle against this illness is, for many people, a battle to maintain hope in the fact of a chilling diagnosis.
Ahead of World Cancer Day on Feb. 4, Anadolu Agency has spoken with Turkish doctors and researchers who are working on new treatments to help the millions of people who, every year, must live with cancer.
In Turkey, although cancer continues to claim many lives and devastate families, new treatment methods and medicines are being found to send it into remission or at least extend the lifespans of sufferers.
Men experience lung and prostate cancer as the leading causes of death from the disease. Among women, breast cancer is the most common fatal cancer, according to latest data from the Turkish Health Ministry.
According to the Health Ministry, one male cancer patient out of five suffers from lung cancer. Overall, Turkey largely fits in with the global experience of cancer.
As in Turkey, the most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide were those of the lung (1.8 million, 13 percent of total diagnoses), breast (1.7 million, 11.9 percent) and colorectal (1.4 million, 9.7 percent), according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)'s online database, GLOBOCAN 2012.
GLOBOCAN 2012 reveals that the most common causes of cancer death were those of the lung (1.6 million, 19.4 percent of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1 percent) and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8 percent).
Prof. Canfeza Sezgin, a Medical Oncology and Internal Medicine specialist in Istanbul, tells Anadolu Agency that new ways are being developed to prevent the growth of cancer cells by exploring the human genetic cancer maps.
This has led to improved molecular drugs – so-called ‘smart medicines’, he says.
According to Sezgin these smart medicines directly target cancer cells, killing and preventing growth, potentially increasing the average lifetime of patients by about 30-40 percent from initial diagnosis.
Older treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy are not ideal or ‘smart’ any more, as these methods also kill healthy cells.
"In our country, smart medicines have been used between four-to-five years," Prof. Sezgin says, adding that such treatments can be used alone or with chemotherapy.
"We are doing genetic tests on patients to determine their cancer's characteristics and looking at whether it is suitable for smart medicines. If it is, their life expectancy [can be] doubled," Sezgin says.
He also talked about causes of cancer and said that environmental factors are the main factor in developing lung cancer – the most prevalent kind in Turkish males.
"Genetic factors effect only 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer patients. Environmental factors have more of an effect, especially: bad diet; a lack of nutritional value; alcohol; smoking; stress and depression," he says.
Prostate cancer is also common in Turkey.
"A prostate cancer patient can be treated with sound waves without any pain and bleeding; then they can return their normal life," says Dr. Huseyin Luleci, a urology doctor who is also a regular on Turkish television.
Luleci – who is also the head of Turkey’s Prostate Cancer Association – says that with the new method people can undergo a procedure with high-frequency sound waves which target tumors directly.
The professor says that patients are often unaware of the disease because prostate cancer has relatively few symptoms but a minute-long examination could detect the illness easily.
"People should have a check-up between 45-50 years of age if there is prostate cancer in their families," he says.
The doctor also added that a patient about 50 years of age has more chance of getting rid of the illness than people aged between 65 and 70.
He also said that genetic factors were more of a factor than environmental factors in developing the condition.
In Turkey, one out of four female cancer patients suffer from breast cancer. A total of 17,630 women were diagnosed with the disease in 2012, Health Ministry statistics say.
According to the American Cancer Society's website, new treatments which could catch breast cancer early are being studied and tested by scientists.
Molecular breast imaging – also known as scintimammography – sees a radioactive tracer injected into a vein.
This then the attaches itself to breast cancer cells and can be detected with a special camera. However, this method is still being studied to see if it will be useful in finding breast cancers.
Under the description “targeted therapies” one group of drugs also takes advantage of gene changes in cells which can cause cancer.
Some drugs currently in use target HER2, a gene which can play a role in the development of breast cancer.
Prof. Vahit Ozmen, honorary president and founder of the Breast Health Society in Istanbul, tells Anadolu Agency:
"Some drugs help to destroy tumors in 50-60 percent of patients who have locally advanced breast cancer.”
About the causes of the disease, Prof. Ozmen says that hormones seem to play a major role in breast cancer. Bad diet – especially eating red meat, animal fat and drinking alcohol – are also risk factors in developing the illness, he adds.
According to the 2012 Turkish Health Ministry report; every year about 105,000 men and 71,000 women are diagnosed with various cancers.
Projections based on the GLOBOCAN 2012 estimates a substantive increase to 19.3 million new cancer cases per year by 2025, due to an increased global population which is living longer on average.
More than half of all cancers (56.8%) and cancer deaths (64.9%) in 2012 occurred in less-developed regions of the world, and these proportions could increase further by 2025, GLOBOCAN 2012 data suggest.