India is losing fight against cancer, thanks to the lack of awareness about prevention and treatment. An estimated 7.9 lakh new patients are diagnosed with cancer in India every year, taking the tally to a staggering 100 new patients every hour, says Dr. Indu Bansal, Consultant Oncology, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon.
In an interview given to Jayashankar Menon, Dr. Indu Bansal speaks about various aspects of cancer and the need for creating more awareness. Excerpts:
JM: What is the ignorance level of cancer in India?
IB: Talk to a random person in India and asking her about the precautions she takes to save herself from common cold or flu, and she is going to list out a series of measures from washing hands to boosting immunity. However, ask the same about preventing cancer and you are going to draw a blank.
JM: What is the apparent reason for this ignorance?
IB: Despite cancer being among the ten leading causes of deaths in India, it is still considered by many people as a remote disease that cannot strike them. Even those who are aware of its implications, do little in their daily lives to minimise the risks of contracting the disease.
JM: Even while we are observing World Cancer Day today on February 4, 2015, what is the way forward?
IB: As we observe the World Cancer Day, it is important to educate people about preventing cancer by cutting risk factors and leading a healthy life. A huge burden of cancer in India can be reduced if people are aware about risks and work systematically to minimise them in daily lives. Quitting tobacco and reducing alcohol intake are just two such measures that can go a long way to reduce your risk of suffering from cancer. Cancer monitoring and screening are other two measures that can radically boost chances of survival, and reduce cancer related deaths.
JM: How important is the early detection of cancer?
IB: Undoubtedly there is massive void of awareness, even among the relatively educated masses. Today, majority of the cases that come to the hospital are already in the last stages or at crucial stages, even for those cancers that can easily be treated if detected early. With greater awareness, people will be more serious about screening and monitoring. However, lack of awareness makes life not just difficult for the patient but also for the physicians treating them.
JM: In a layman’s language, what is cancer?
IB: Cancer is a group of abnormal cells. They are often referred to as ‘mad cells’, ‘wayward cells’ or ‘crazy cells’. The normal cells turn crazy, defy nature’s ways of propagation, and multiply rapidly, altering the normal functioning of the body. If this process goes unchecked, it has the capacity to migrate to any other part of body. According to WHO, five most common sites of cancer in men are lung, prostate, colorectum, stomach, and liver; while in women they are breast, colorectum, lung, cervix, and stomach. Cancers are caused due to malfunction of the genes that control cell growth resulting in indiscriminate multiplication of the cells in the affected part of the body. However, the genetic abnormalities are mostly a result of mutations that occur in the genes due to a series of environmental factors.
JM: How can we prevent cancer?
IB: Cancers like mouth cancer and lung cancer should be detected early and can be prevented by life style modifications. However trends show an exponential rise in the same. Breast Cancer and Cervical cancers are the other two types that can be detected through simple and cost effective tests like an ultrasound/mammography and a PAP Smear, however many women don’t even know the importance of the same.
Experts say a bulk of the most common cancers can be prevented by targeting four major risk factors such as reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, adopting healthier diets and improving physical activity levels. At the same time, it is also important to protect from UV radiation by wearing sunscreen religiously. Cancer incidence can further be reduced if infections like HBV and HPV associated with liver and cervical cancers respectively are controlled with vaccinations.
According to World Health Organization around one third of cancer deaths occur are due to five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use. Naturally, dealing with these five risk factors can radically reduce the incidence of the disease.
· Eat Healthy: People with greater intake of meat are more susceptible to cancer (though being a vegetarian doesn’t guarantee zero risk). So, even as you relish your non vegetarian delicacies make sure you consume adequate amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Anti-oxidants are believed to reduce risk of cancer and other disease.
Give Up Bad Habits: It may sound like a cliché, but quitting smoking and excessive drinking can prevent lung and liver cancers to a large degree. Over 1 million people die of tobacco cancer every year. Tobacco is responsible for 50% of all cancers.
Get your Body in Shape: If you are overweight, you have many reasons to worry. Excessive weight not just increases risk of cancer, but also makes you more prone to diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis of the knees. So, get yourself into the right body mass index.
Exercise: If you are of normal body weight, this doesn’t mean you do not need to exercise. Lack of physical exercise is the reason behind a range of lifestyle diseases including cancer, in both overweight as well as thin people.
Vaccination and Screening: Vaccination can save two major forms of cancer. Vaccinate yourself against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). At the same time get yourself regularly screened for cancer to enable timely detection and treatment in case of a negative outcome.
JM: What are the warning signals of cancer?
IB: Warning signals of Cancer comes in the form of ‘CAUTION US’
• C hange in bowel or bladder habits
• A sore that does not heal
• U nusual bleeding or discharge
• T hickening or lump in breast or elsewhere
• I ndigestion or difficulty in swallowing
• O bvious change in wart or mole
• N agging cough or hoarseness of voice
• U nexplained anemia
• S udden and unexplained weight loss or fever