Poverty and Lung Cancer
Poverty predisposes individuals to a spectrum of conditions that result from an amalgamation of lifestyle factors, health, hygiene and living conditions. Mortality from lung cancer is a more significant factor in impoverished communities compared to developed economies.

One of the major predisposing factors for high lung cancer mortality rates in developing countries is smoking. Cigarette smoke contains toxic particles which can inflict damage to cells present in the airways. Over time, these affected cells can become abnormal and lose their normal function.

The World Bank has established that smoking is more prevalent among poor groups compared to the rich, not only as a consequence of poverty but also in part due to the education individuals receive. Due to incognizance of the health risks associated with smoking, poor individuals may engage in this habit as a result of stress or poor family relationships.

Strategies to reduce lung cancer mortality in developing countries should focus on increasing access to education. Increased education can be achieved by building schooling facilities, implementing laws where education is compulsory until a certain age and subsidizing education for families who are unable to afford school fees.

A composition of diet also plays a crucial role in the development of lung cancer in impoverished countries. Some households are likely to be contingent with foods that are often processed, cheap and have poor nutritional value. As a result of low intake of fruit and vegetables, individuals are likely to be deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that play an important role in the body’s defense mechanisms against cancer development.

Measures to overcome poor dietary habits can include campaigns educating individuals about healthy eating. Subsidies can be offered to local supermarkets to ensure that fresh, affordable produce is readily available to individuals.

Rural communities often have poor access to health care services which can impede their ability to seek professional help at early stages. This prevents cases of lung cancer from being diagnosed and treated in the inchoate stages. Cancer can eventually progress to a serious stage where it is completely incurable and has a risk of significant mortality. Higher mortality in poor communities can also stem from a reluctance to utilize health care resources, possibly as a result of personal prejudice or concerns about a financial expense.

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 40 percent of identified cancer cases are associated with tobacco usage. This represents a significant proportion of cases that can be attributed to smoking, which is a preventable risk factor.

Widespread smoking cessation campaigns in both developing and developed countries can be implemented to encourage individuals to reduce smoking gradually. This can be done through advertising, counseling with health care professionals or even offering alternatives to smoking such as nicotine replacement therapy.

With greater than 36 million smokers in the United States alone, urgent action must be taken to ensure both poverty and lung cancer are reduced through a combination of corrective measures such as education, health care advice, and smoking cessation campaigns.

Tanvi Ambulkar

Photo: Flickr

Cancer. The dreaded disease kills millions around the world. It sometimes seems like everyone knows someone that it has cursed with its cruel touch. But even in the developing world, it is having a huge impact on thousands of people.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 7.9 million people around the world die from cancer each year. While many think of this as more of a developed world problem, 5.5 million of those cancer-related deaths take place in the developing world. That is 70 percent of cancer deaths across the globe. Once a disease associated with the affluent, it is now an affliction of the poor.

Worse, cancer deaths are to increase to 6.7 million by the end of this year and further to 8.9 million by 2030 in the developing world. During the same time frame, cancer deaths are expected to remain at current levels in the developed world.

A few factors will contribute to this expected rise within the next 15 years of cancer-related deaths. First is the globally aging population. To go along with this is a increase in rapid, unplanned urbanization as well as the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles.

Most health infrastructures in developing countries are designed to respond to infectious diseases. Cancer requires more resources financially, as well as treatment technology, equipment, staff or training than most countries have access to.

There is not only an issue here of deaths but also needless suffering. Sadly, there is very large lack of response capacity in the developing world. There is a lack of preventatives, treatment, public education and diagnosis. Early diagnosis in particular is a problem, and once diagnosed it is usually the rich that have access to treatment, whether surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy out of country. This is especially the case in Africa.

After all that, it might appear that everyone is doomed. However, recent good news about new technology to diagnose cancer early in the developing world has things looking up.

Early diagnosis is key in cancer. If the disease is not recognized early through cancer testing, then treatment is usually not effective. Seventy percent of those that even get diagnosed in the developing world do at this late stage when treatment is essentially useless.

Important to detecting cancer are biomarkers – cells or molecules along with “any other measurable biological characteristic that can be used as an objective way to detect disease.” Glycoproteins are especially useful biomarkers. They are found throughout the body, in blood, mucus and sperm.

New technology is using glycoproteins to detect cancer early. The lock and key method takes a disease biomarker, like a glycoprotein of prostate cancer, and makes a cast of it. “The prostate cancer glycoprotein is tethered to a surface and detection molecules are assembled around it. When the glycoprotein is removed, it leaves behind a perfect chemical ‘cast’.”

Essentially, the lock and key technique means that only another cancer glycoprotein will fit the mold – others might be the same size, but they will not have the specific molecules needed to bind to the lock created by the original one.

As this method of diagnosis does not rely on antibodies, it does not require special storage. The lock and key cancer testing method is a simple and effective way to detect cancer early, and can even be molded to specific cancers and other diseases. The advantages are obvious, but time will tell if the method of testing becomes wide-spread in the developing world.

Gregory Baker

Sources: The Conversation, WHO
Photo: The Conversation


Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a Nigerian born scientist, has developed glasses that can see cancer cells. For this new technology, Dr. Achilefu was awarded the 2014 St. Louis Award.

This award is given to a recipient who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of chemistry and has demonstrated potential to further the profession.

Dr. Achilefu, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, and his team developed glasses that contain imaging technology. The glasses are intended to help surgeons view cancer cells while operating, instead of operating “in the dark.”

The project began in 2012 when Dr. Achilefu and his team received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Before the grant, the team received limited funding from the Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program.

The glasses were in the development stage for years, testing the technology on mice, rats and rabbits to confirm the effectiveness of the glasses.

In order to see the infected cells, two steps must be followed.

First, the surgeons must inject a small quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient’s bloodstream. The marker, also known as a tracer, contains peptides that are able to locate the cancer cells, and buries itself inside.

The tracer lasts about four hours. As it moves through the patient’s body, it will clear away from non-cancerous tissue.

By wearing the glasses, the surgeon can inspect the tumors under an infrared light that reacts with the dye. The combination of the tracer and infrared light causes the tumor to glow from within and allows the surgeon to see the infected cells.

This technology was first tested on humans at the Washington University School of Medicine in June 2015. Four patients with breast cancer and over two-dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles.

Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist who is collaborating with Dr. Achilefu says, “[the glasses] allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not been FDA approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light.”

Julie Margenthaler, a breast cancer surgeon, explains that many breast cancer patients must go back for second operations because the human eye cannot see the extent of the infected cells alone.

“Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience, and anxiety”.

The Food and Drug Administration are still reviewing the cancer seeing glasses and the tracer developed by Dr. Achilefu and his co-researchers. But, if the glasses are approved, the removal of cancerous cells has been changed forever. And most importantly, patients will receive the care in order to treat their cancer.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: IT News Africa, Premium Times, St. Louis Section of American Chemical Society
Photo: Pax Nigerian