International Women's Day 2020: Globally, cancer claims 9.6 million lives each year. Cancer is a pervasive killer in our country. What most people don't realise, however, is that cancer is also largely avoidable killer more than one-third of cancer cases can be prevented, while another third can be cured with early detection and treatment.
Dr Rajas B Patel explains the situation of Cancer in India
- There has been a shift in the average age at which patients are diagnosed with cancer, from 55 to 40 years.
- Lung, breast, cervical and colorectal cancer are the most common types of cancer in the country.
- In recent times, the number of diagnosed cases has risen significantly; this increase has been found to directly correspond to the rising prevalence of sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits (dominated by processed, packaged foods) and exposure to environmental carcinogenic toxins, especially in urban India.
- Tobacco use is a risk factor for 14 types of cancer, while alcohol and drug use can increase the risk for eight cancer types.
- A poor diet can also increase the risk of eight types of cancer.
- Unsafe sex is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer – the second most common cancer type in women.
- The profile of cancer in the country is also changing.
- For instance, while breast cancer was the fourth most common type of cancer in 1990, in 2016, it became the most common type of cancer in women.
- This increase can be attributed to risk factors such as women giving birth to their first child at a later age and rising obesity levels.
- Similarly, prostate cancer is now the tenth most common type of cancer, up from its 17th position in 1990.
Where do you come in?
- Translate your willingness to educate yourself about cancer and commit to regular screenings, as well as timely preventative measures.
- While conversations around cancer are often mired by stigma and, consequently, faulty assumptions and beliefs, in recent years, the trend has begun to change with celebrities such as cricketer Yuvraj Singh, and actors Sonali Bendre, Lisa Ray, and Manisha Koirala championing the cause by sharing their struggles with the disease.
- At the same time, these conversations must be backed by consciously committing to healthier lifestyle choices and dietary habits.
- HPV vaccinations, regular health check-ups, self-examining for lumps, avoiding excessive exposure to harmful UV radiation from the sun and cutting back on tobacco consumption can go a long way in aiding early detection and enabling timely treatment.
- Finally, it is important to educate yourself about treatment options – not many people know that while chemotherapy was considered the de facto treatment, especially for advanced cancers, today, several other alternatives are available.
- For instance, the introduction of proton therapy ensures that tumour cells are targeted with more precision, thereby preventing damage to healthy tissues and organs.
- Several other types of targeted therapies, including such as the breast cancer drug called Herceptin, aim at the specific genes and proteins in cancer cells related to cancer growth.
They include monoclonal antibodies, man-made versions of immune system proteins, checkpoint inhibitors that help the body recognise and attack cancer cells, and cancer vaccines. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, where a type of the body’s immune cells called T cells is genetically altered in the lab to better fight cancer cells, can also revolutionise the way cancer is treated.
(Inputs By Dr Rajas B Patel, Medical Oncologist, RH Clinic)
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