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For birth, growth, and continuation of all living things, cells must constantly divide. Old cells die and are replaced by new ones, and the new ones must grow and function exactly as their predecessors. Cells also divide and replicate to make offspring. Cells divide trillions upon trillions of times in a lifetime. Although numerous and complicated, the processes are precisely controlled to ensure that the body continues to operate normally and that, in terms of reproduction, like should give birth to like. This incredible precision of cell replication and growth process is referred to as “replication fidelity.”

Replication fidelity ensures that cells give rise to cells that are exactly like themselves, that new cells stop growing once they mature, and that body organs function properly throughout life – producing the right quantities of hormones and bodily fluids.

Fidelity is the Latin word for “faithfulness.” Replication fidelity is a testament to God’s great faithfulness. In his faithfulness, all things hold together in Christ.

What is cancer? Cancer is a term for a large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth, replication, or function of cells in a part of the body, which may invade adjoining parts or even spread to other organs. In other words, there is loss of fidelity in these cells. Cancer can affect almost any part of the body. Affected organs can exert pressure on neighbouring body parts, consume nutrients, or produce hormones excessively and consequently upset the body’s chemical and energy balance. In 2018 there were almost 10 million cancer deaths globally, with most of them occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancer are common in men; breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are common in women; while blood, brain and solid tumours are most common in children.

Why does someone get cancer? Realizing that many trillions of new cells are formed each year in our bodies, maybe we should ask the question this way: Why do we not develop literally millions of cancers? Replication fidelity normally ensures that cells are replicated precisely, abnormalities are repaired, and defective cells are destroyed. Occasionally this system does not work and cells become abnormal and form cancer.

The sun, moon, stars, earth, and galaxies don’t miss their paths and collide or degenerate into the vastness of space. When a collision of astronomical bodies occurs, with some stars falling to earth, we nevertheless know that trillions and trillions of starry journeys are completed with absolute precision because they are held together in Christ.

The same faithfulness reaches deep down to the very cells and molecules of our bodies. Even when cancer occurs, God’s faithfulness remains steadfast, still holding us together in Christ.

How can we prevent cancer? Not all cancers can be prevented. However, 30 to 50 percent of cancers can be prevented by modifying some key risk factors, including avoiding tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption, eating more fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy body weight, breathing clean air, exercising regularly, and avoiding environmental pollution.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes liver cancer, and human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, but there are vaccines for these two viruses.

What is the treatment for cancer? Cancer treatment involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Successful treatment depends on early detection and treatment. Screening is available for cancer of the cervix, breast, and prostate. When cancer cannot be cured, palliative care, including pain management, is important. It is also helpful for countries to have complete and reliable information to support development of cancer policies and services.

There is no general screening available for childhood cancers, and so good outcome depends on early and accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Malaria, HIV and Epstein-Barr virus infections increase the risk of cancer in children and so must be controlled. Most childhood cancers can be cured.

The rapid advance in techniques for cancer screening and treatment in recent years has greatly improved the lives of many patients, especially where there is early diagnosis. God-given skills in medical care can transform lives. These developments are in themselves miraculous.

What can churches do?

Churches can:

  • Organize health talks so as to provide comprehensive information on cancer and encourage church members to go for regular screening and early diagnosis
  • Promote biblical reflections, testimonies, and literature that fight cancer stigma and fear and affirm life and hope
  • Conduct regular health-promotion activities
  • Offer prayer and pastoral accompaniment[1] to families affected by cancer
  • Support advocacy, mobilization, and ethical distribution of resources, such as trained health workers and diagnostic and treatment services, especially for poor and marginalized people.

[1]. Accompaniment means walking together with someone or with others in solidarity, so their journey becomes our journey also – like on the road to Emmaus.


About the author :

Mwai Makoka is Programme Executive for Health and Healing at the World Council of Churches. He received medical training from the University of Malawi and post-doctoral training in medical and public health microbiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. Besides clinical work, he has worked in academia and in health programmes both in the public sector and in ecumenical circles.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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