Cancer occurs when there is overgrowth of abnormal cells in a tissue. These cells can grow beyond their normal boundaries and spread to surrounding organs in a process known as metastasis. Metastases tend to be the primary cause of cancer deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 10 million cancer deaths in 2020.

The top ten cancers globally for 2020, according to the Global Cancer Observatory were:

1. Breast
2. Lung
3. Prostate
4. Colon
5. Stomach
6. Liver
7. Rectum
8. Cervix
9. Oesophagus
10. Thyroid

In Jamaica for 2020, according to the Global Cancer Observatory the top ten cancers were:

1. Prostate
2. Breast
3. Colon
4. Lung
5. Uterine

6. Cervical
7. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
8. Stomach
9. Rectum
10. Multiple myeloma

As with the other NCDs, risk factors for cancers include tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and air pollution. Additionally, some chronic infections are risk factors for cancer, for example the human papillomavirus in cervical cancer and the Hepatitis virus in liver cancer. The WHO estimates that 30-50% of cancers could be prevented by the avoidance of risk factors, and the implementation of evidence-based prevention strategies.

In Jamaica, screening is offered through public and private health facilities islandwide. Early detection is very important for a favourable outcome of a patient with cancer. Treatment for cancer varies according to the type and stage of cancer. Treatment may be surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of these. Palliative care is offered for patients with advanced cancer.

There are currently two centres of excellence for cancer treatment in Jamaica – St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston, and Cornwall Regional Hospital in St. James. Additionally, other public and private health facilities provide some cancer treatment services.

The Four Cancers below can be easily detected through screening in Jamaica.

The Four Priority Cancers are:

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer refers to cancer occurring in the breast tissue.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is cancer arising in the prostate gland

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer occurring in the cervix (neck of the womb)

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer (also simply called colon cancer) refers to cancer affecting the colon (large intestine) or the rectum (the passage which connects the colon to the anus)

Other Cancers

Other common cancers in Jamaica are uterine cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Investigations are available for the early detection of these cancers as well.

Common symptoms of Cancer are:

Unexplained weight loss

Fever of unknown cause

Persistent cough or hoarseness

New or unexplained pain

Persistent heartburn

Trouble swallowing

Sores that don’t heal

Unusual bleeding or discharge

Unusual bleeding or discharge

Unexplained lumps

Myths and Facts

Myth: Cervical cancer cannot be treated

Fact: Cervical Cancer can be treated and even cured if diagnosed early.

Myth: Older women do not need Pap Smears.

Fact: All women aged 21 to 64 need a regular Pap Smear and for those aged 30+ years, they may also do HPV testing.

Myth: I’m not sexually active now…so I don’t need to do a Pap Smear.

Fact: Even if you are not currently sexually active you must still do regular Pap Smears.

Myth: Lung Cancer is the only cancer that is associated with tobacco use.

Fact: Tobacco use is a risk factor for a number of cancers including cervical cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer.