The Chaotic Complexity of Cancer

Cancer is a complex disease
{ The Complicated Chaos Inside a Cancer Cell }

“There were facets of the complexity of cancer that  I thought I understood as a researcher.  But once I became a patient, it was clear how difficult it is to translate our current understanding of cancer into clinical decisions.” ~ Linda Griffith, Ph.D. (bioengineer and breast cancer survivor)

{ To watch Linda Griffith’s interview about the complexity of cancer, click here. }

Unlike TB or HIV, cancer is not just one, singular disease, with one cause and one form of treatment. FACT: There are 300+ different cancer types. If we look at just that number, we must understand that that means there are 300+ ways of detection, diagnosis, treatment, after-care and support. Additionally, adding to the complexity is each person’s unique personality, unique set of pre-existing health conditions, unique living circumstances (employment, housing, finances, transport etc.), and unique family who are also so much part of the person’s cancer journey.

Because TB and HIV are singular diseases, their treatment policies are fairly simple to have put into place, afford and maintain. However, cancer’s endless complexity makes having a policy for breast health expensive, complicated and difficult to define.

When we shift our perspective from private care to public health care, it is an unavoidable fact that our public health system is in urgent need of a breast health policy which addresses every single aspect of breast health from improving involuntary exposure to environmental risk factors, boosting breast health education and awareness  – all the way through to the upgrading of diagnostic and treatment technology, psycho-social support during and after treatment for both the person diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as their family. Most of all the value of a breast health policy for South Africa would be  the standardization of breast care across the country based on international best practice research.

The article below from Breast Cancer Action packs a punch as it exposes the unavoidable South African reality about the state of our nation’s breast health crisis:


“… the complex issues of social inequities – political, economic and racial injustices have been largely neglected. The extent and type of toxins we’re exposed to often depends on where we live and work. Poorer communities — both urban and rural — shoulder an unequal share of the burden of exposure to toxic materials.

The social determinants of breast cancer likely contribute significantly to the development and mortality of the disease, and these involuntary factors are shown to be of greater impact on women of color and low-income women, since these populations are at greater risk for exposure to toxins and social injustice-related stresses and the lack of services available on a primary care level to access cancer care easily and swiftly. The delays in diagnostic testing and the impact this has on the start of treatment are issues causing late diagnosis and treatment, and thus the outcomes of treatment are compromised.

Low-income women are also less likely to have access to healthy foods and quality healthcare. Compelling research and simple intuition tells us that true reduction of both breast cancer incidence and death from the disease requires a better understanding of how the complex tangle of the environmental and social factors, genetics and personal behavior results in different outcomes for different ethnic and economic groups.

Working to prevent breast cancer through lifestyle choices ignores the hard fact that we don’t all share equal access to the same “lifestyle choices.” When we focus on the benefits of individual diet and exercise, we lose sight of the social justice issues that limits access to affordable healthy food and regular exercise for many in our society. We strongly feel the best approaches are a combination of individual AND societal changes so that EVERYONE has the option of limiting their risk of getting breast cancer.

{ See more at Breast Cancer Action }

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