The word cancer evokes an unpleasant mix of emotions: panic, anxiety, worry. More so in India where cancer cases are as high as 70 to 90 per 1,00,000 people. Each year, approximately 2.5 million are affected by cancer, with more than 8,00,000 new cases and 5,50,000 deaths. Cancer needs much greater attention and awareness across the country and the world.
To increase cancer awareness worldwide, February 4 every year is observed as “World Cancer Day”. To mark the occasion this year, medical experts at Narayana Health addressed some important questions and concerns about cancer.
Participants in the ‘NH Dialogues’ webinar:
The distinguished panel of doctors discussed various aspects of cancer, including its causes, symptoms, types, stages, prevention, and treatment methods. They also discussed the relapse risks, medical advancements, mortality rates and lifestyle changes needed to prevent cancer from claiming more victims.
Why is cancer called a malignant disease?
The body is made up of cells. Each cell has a specific function. Not so with cancer cells that change at the genetic level, that is, changes with the DNA structure that forms the blueprint of the cell.
Cancer cells uncontrollably multiply and attack the body’s healthy cells, tissues, and organs. The patient’s immune system falls victim and this can lead to death. This is why cancer is called a malignant disease – malignant means an evil disease that torments and haunts the patient. The good news is that if cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be cured.
How does cancer creep into the system?
A widespread misconception is that cancer is a hereditary disease. But facts show otherwise: 90% of people who develop cancers do not have a family history of cancer. This means a mere 10% chance of developing cancer from a blood relative with the same DNA composition.
While the genetic factor plays a minor role, other elements increase the risk of developing cancer, including the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, cigarettes; other unhealthy habits such as a harmful diet (consuming processed foods, foods with high-fat content), unsafe and unprotected sex, exposure to excess ultraviolet radiation.
What are the types of cancer?
Cancer can affect every part of the body. So the types of cancer are innumerable. Two of the common, deadlier types of cancer:
Mouth or oral cancer: In India, 30-40% of cancer cases involve cancer of the face and neck, as compared to 2-3% in the US and Europe. This unfortunately high percentage in India is due to many people chewing tobacco and betel leaf. Consuming tobacco becomes deadly due to the presence of toxic ingredients in most paan-masala packets. But people ignore or take lightly warnings against tobacco consumption in any form, and this results in the mouth or oral cancers claiming many victims in India.
Blood cancer or leukaemia: Doctors at Narayana Health repeatedly remind that leukaemia is no more a death sentence type of cancer. It can be cured with the latest medical advancements. Bone marrow transplant is an increasingly common treatment option for leukaemia patients.
A bone marrow donor can donate his/her white blood cells (WBC) to an active leukaemia patient. The patient’s WBC is replaced by injecting a substance that stimulates the growth of the donated cells. Next, the donor’s WBCs are used to change the cancer patient’s blood structure as well as the patient’s immune system. Thanks to this advanced mechanism, we find a higher survival rate of up to 60% among children and adults.
But the chances of a leukaemia survivor easily relapsing are also very high. This is because the presence of even one cancer cell somewhere in the blood system can again cause the disease back to its fullest form. A cancer patient who has crossed the five-year survival mark very rarely suffers a relapse.
Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy are the trinity of cancer treatments.
Medicines and vaccines have a minor role. Chemotherapy is the most effective treatment option worldwide for most types of cancers.
Recent developments such as bone marrow transplant and stem cell transplant have increased the effectiveness of successfully dealing with cancer.
Is there anything called a “good cancer”?
Strange as it may sound, there are a few “good” types of cancers – and the term “good” refers to a complete cure. Thyroid cancer has a cure rate of almost 99%. Likewise, Hodgkin lymphoma has a 50-60% successful cure rate, even in its advanced stages.
Are Stage 4 cancers the end?
In most cancers, yes. Although the N stage is a terminal stage cancer, testicular cancer and lymphoma are exceptions since they can be cured and patients can live a normal life.
Doctors admit that stage 4 cancers cannot be cured. The focus then is more towards palliation-to extend their lifespan of cancer patients and reduce their symptoms of suffering. Treating stage 4 cancers is not only about the chemo or radiation, but focusing more on the quality of life.
The most important takeaway:
To avoid chances of getting cancer, we have to put an end immediately to unhealthy habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle involving regular exercise, a nutritious diet and living a stress-free life.
Dr. Devi Shetty, Founder, Chairman, and Senior Consultant Cardiac Surgeon, Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Bommasandra, Bangalore
Dr. Sharat Damodar, Senior Consultant Hematologist, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore
Dr. Santosh Gowda, Medical Oncologist, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore
Dr. Moni Kuriakose, Senior Consultant and Director – Head and Neck Surgery, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore
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