4th February is observed as World Cancer Day because cancer is going to be the leading cause of death by 2025. However new technologies and treatments mean that cure is possible.
Bindu Gopal Rao
The burden of cancer has doubled over the last decade. According to a Indian Council of Medical Research, India will witness more than 17.3 lakh new cancer cases and more than 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020. Cancer is caused by accumulated damage to genes. A number of forces can cause such damage to genes which results in cancer. Certain lifestyle choices such as tobacco and alcohol are known to increase your risk of cancer. Secondhand smoke is also responsible for cancer. The environment around you may contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer. So how do you recognize the symptoms and get help? Read on.
The main reason for rising incidence of cancer among people today is their diet. Diet rich in animal protein found in meat, egg, poultry, fish, dairy and processed foods forms top two reasons for the rise in cancer. “Casein forms 87% of milk protein and is the worst protein as it is 100% related to cancer growth. Animal proteins are directly shown to increase cancer cell growth. Animal protein diets decreased NK cell activity, increased cell replication, increased oxygen radicals, increased hormone IGF-2 therefore promoting cancer while even at 20 percent of diet coming from plant protein like soy and wheat protein did not induce pre-cancer development the way that animal proteins did,” says Karan Kakkad, Founder, Reverse Factor. Currently several factors such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, and lung cancer constitute for almost 41 per cent of cancer burden in the country. Oral cancer and Lung Cancer are the most common types of cancer found among men whereas Breast Cancer is the major cause of cancer deaths among women. Several factors such as rising tobacco use, increased industrial emission, adulteration and high-risk lifestyle habits like fast food and lack of exercise have led to an increase in the incidence of cancer in India.
Most cancers are genetic in nature and involves mutation of the key genes resulting in uncontrolled cell proliferation and the cancer cell becomes immortal. “Genes involved in the development of cancers fall into three categories. Tumour suppressor genes: genes whose function is lost during the genesis of cancer, Protooncogene when genes whose function gets activated during genesis of cancer and DNA repair genes whose function is to repair the damaged DNA but fails to do so leading to cancer,” says Dr. Preetam Jain, Medical Oncologist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai. If you notice any unusual changes or anything that does not go away even after its treatment, check for cancer. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of cancer include unexplained or sudden weight loss, loss of energy, lumps, yellowing, darkening or redness of skin, pain, indigestion, bleeding, breathlessness and swollen lymph nodes. To detect cancer early, there are certain screening tests for certain cancers are available for the population. “In females self breast examination after age of 20, mammography yearly after age 40, PAP smear test (for cervical cancer) are advised. In males which are consuming tobacco products, Oral cavity examination and X-ray chest, for prostate cancer detection, PSA (blood test) are advised,” says Dr. Sanjay Dudhat, Oncologist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital.
Cancer can be cured if detected in early stages. There are three stages of cancer – initiation, promotion and progression. Cancer can be easily reversed when it is in its first two stages by switching to a complete whole plant based diet. Dr. Sajjan Rajpurohit, Head of Unit, Department of Medical Oncology at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre says, “if the cancer is detected in early stage, the chances of cure are more than 90%. We have certain cancers which can be really diagnosed very early like breast cancer, cervical cancer in women and head and neck cancer and lung cancer and prostate cancer in men. Cancers can be cured to a high success rate of more than 90% if they are detected in the early stage.” Dr. Sunil Bhat, Director and Clinical Lead, Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation, Narayana Health Network Hospitals avers, “if cancers detected early majority of them can be cured. Treatment traditionally is based on chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Recently immunotherapy is also playing an important role is some of the cancers and showing good results.” Blood related cancers are amongst the most curable cancers. Hodgkins Lymphoma has a cure rate in excess of 70% with early stage Hodgkins Lymphoma having a cure rate of > 90%. “Lymphoma survivors have gone on to start support groups providing counselling during the treatment and vocational training after completion of treatment which not only helps patients undergoing the emotional trauma of a cancer diagnosis, but also helps in their re-integration into day to day life,” says Dr. N Aditya Murali, Consultant – Medical & Hemato Oncology, Aster CMI Hospital.
Dr. Jayant Gawande, MD, DM(Medical Oncology) Consultant Medical Oncologist, Aditya Birla Hospital Pune says, “one can take measures to lower the risk of getting cancer. This includes following a healthy lifestyle, avoid smoking and exposure to smoke, limit your alcohol intake, regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight, take vaccines to prevent cancer, know what you’re being exposed to in your work environment and take protective measures, avoid risky behaviour and get regular medical care.” Knowing your family history of cancer is also important to properly assess your risk factor for certain types of cancer. Cancer screening tests can be useful not only in detecting cancer, but also helping prevent it. Tests like the colonoscopy and Pap smear can detect abnormal changes before they turn cancerous. It is effective when done regularly. Dr. Arun Kumar Goel, Director- Surgical Oncology (Breast DMG), Max Super Speciality Hospital adds, “vaccination against hepatitis B and HPV vaccination are helpful interventions in cancer prevention. HPV vaccine is recommended for all girls from the age of 9 years to 25 years and gives 75%-80% protection from cancer of cervix.”
When cancer is diagnosed, timely treatment at centers that have the capability of complete cancer treatment allows for high cure rates. Cancer treatment is possible by three different approaches: surgery, drug treatment and radiotherapy. The three arms of cancer care are called surgical oncology, medical oncology and radiation oncology. With celebrities coming to the forefront and discussing their cases, hope remains for others as well. Take the case of actress Manisha Koirala who recently released her book ‘Healed: How Cancer gave Me A New Life’ that chronicles her battle with cancer and has publically admitted that the disease made her a better person and actor. Likewise cricket Yuvraj Singh also released his book ‘The Test of My Life: From Cricket to Cancer and Back’ after he successfully survived lung cancer. In fact today there are many people who are able to beat the disease. Take the case of Anuja Chavan, 47 and mother of two who discovered a lump inside her left breast around 10 years ago. Once it was diagnosed as being cancerous, her world was turned upside down. Initially she lost all hope but underwent surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy. However, fighting against all odds she sprang back to life and attributes her triumph to love, care, sharing and understanding from her family and treatment and counselling from her doctors. Her post-cancer phase has been marked by stellar achievements like winning several awards for writing. Priya Deshpande, 62 based in Mumbai admits it was her will that led to her survival. After being diagnosed with breast cancer she was treated in Tata Hospital. “This phase taught me that sometimes survival during and after calamities we face is always gift for future life for others and myself. If our mind is strong, the power of mind is much bigger and better than the power of wind, will not turn us to another other path but to the path which we desire.”
As such our own body keeps killing cancer cells by different ways through body immune system. “Understanding what helps to prevent cancer is very important. Preventing cancer is better than cure. Awareness, lifestyle changes, and improving diet with antioxidants, will help in improving self-killing capabilities of our body to cancer cells,” says Dr. Nanda Rajaneesh, surgical oncologist, Apollo Spectra Hospitals, Bengaluru. Taking an insurance against cancer is a good idea. Dr. M Udaya Kumar Maiya, Medical Director, Portea Medical avers, “all leading insurance companies in India today provide cancer cover in both early and major stages. They predominantly cover costs of hospitalization, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. This becomes immensely beneficial as costs of cancer treatments may comprise anything between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh for a period of six month, depending on the stage of the disease and the treatment provided. However, it must be noted that most insurance companies have some exclusions and regulations; one needs to do a careful perusal of the terms and conditions before signing in.”
This story first appeared in Spice Route Feb 2019 here: