The Big ‘C’ – Some Quick Facts About Cancer

April is being observed as locally as Wellness Month. Every Monday, we will be posting health and wellness related content on the diGBlog to keep our readers informed. Internationally, April is also Cancer Awareness Month, so we will kick things off by looking at the ‘big C.’

What is cancer?

According to the US-based National Cancer Institute,

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues.

Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and may form growths called tumors.

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What are the most common cancers in Jamaica?


Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of death in Jamaica? Effective treatment is available, but it is also very expensive, often running into millions of dollars. This is detrimental to the average Jamaican.

  1. Breast cancer – According to The pathology of breast cancer in Jamaica: the national public health laboratory study, a 2010 study published in the West Indian Medical Journal, “breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women in Jamaica and has been for the past three decades… [W]ithin the Caribbean, Jamaica has been shown to have one of the highest rates.” October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month annually.
  2. Prostate cancer – This is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican adult males. Each year, the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) earmarks September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. A recent study on prostate cancer among Caribbean men of African descent has revealed there was a 270 per cent increase in the disease among Jamaican men between 1983 and 2007.
  3. Cervical cancer – This is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not present symptoms, but can be detected with regular Pap smears. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time in their lives, but most infections clear up on their own. An HPV infection that doesn’t go away can cause cervical cancer in some women. Another risk factor is smoking, which can also increase the risk of cervical cancer among women infected with HPV. Click here to download an NCI fact sheet (PDF, ePub or Kindle).
  4. Lung cancer – Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but the disease can also affect those who have been exposed to the smoke. The most common types are small cell lung cancer, which means the cells look small under a microscope. It grows and spreads rapidly. About 1 of every 8 people with lung cancer has small cell lung cancer; non-small cell lung cancer means the cells are larger than the previous type mentioned. About 7 of every 8 people diagnosed with lung cancer have non-small cell lung cancer. It doesn’t grow and spread as fast as small cell lung cancer, and it’s treated differently. Click here to download an NCI fact sheet (PDF, ePub or Kindle).

Where to get help in Jamaica


The Jamaica Cancer Society – The Jamaica Cancer Society is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, which was formed in 1955. Its mandate is “to eliminate cancer as a major health problem in Jamaica” and its members have worked tirelessly over the past 60 years towards achieving this goal with various initiatives.

The JCS offers a number of services, including a clinic, mobile mammography unit and mobile Pap smear screening, as well as outreach and support services such as Jamaica Reach to Recovery, Relay for Life and counselling.

Here is a timeline from the organisation’s website:

1955 -The Jamaica Cancer Society was founded on December 6th, by the Honourable Dr Ken McNeill.
1963 – The Society erected the Hope Institute, a 32-bed hospital on lands in the vicinity of the University Hospital. The function of the Institute is to provide cancer treatment in close conjunction with the Oncology Department of the Kingston Public Hospital and the University Hospital.
1972 – A special wing was added to the University Hospital for the treatment and rehabilitation of cases of recurrent and advanced cancer.
1972 – The Society’s first cancer screening clinic was opened in Kingston and another at the Mandeville Hospital in March of the same year. The work of the Jamaica Cancer Society is now carried out from its headquarters in Kingston and five branches island wide.
1974 – The Society handed over the Hope Institute to the Government of Jamaica.
1977 – Jamaica Reach to Recovery is a breast cancer support group that was first started in 1977 and is closely affiliated with the Jamaica Cancer Society. Its members are made up entirely of women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer and have had surgery (mastectomies and lumpectomies). The function of the organization is to provide empathetic counseling and social support to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
2000 – Implementation of Mobile Mammography and Pap Smear Screening Programmes.
2001 – Recipient of The Gleaner Honour Award – Certificate of Merit
2003 – The Society launched Relay For Life, a team event to raise funds to fight cancer, bring recognition that with early detection, cancer can be beaten, honour survivors and remember those who lost the battle.
2006 – Launch of ACS FreshStart Programme.
2008 – Recipient of The Gleaner Honour Award for Voluntary Service
2010 – Recipient of the Lions Club of Mona Award for outstanding and dedicated service to National Health Care
2010 – Inaugural Dr. Joseph St Elmo Hall Lecture Series in dedication to Dr. Hall for his years of voluntary service to the Jamaica Cancer Society.