No one is immune to cancer. It can affect young and old alike. It does not also discriminate between the rich or poor, man or a woman. The biggest plight is that people avoid reading or talking about cancer. But it is not only important to be aware of cancer and but also to apprise oneself about its risk factors, early signs, and treatment.
To reinforce this 2019 marks the launch of the 3-year ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign. ‘I Am and I Will’ is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future. Unless there is an individual awakening and willingness to take steps for the prevention of cancer there will be a perineal rise in the incidence of cancer.
Cancer has become the second leading cause of death worldwide and the incidence of virtually all types of cancers is increasing. India, in particular, is witnessing a steady rise in cancers. The western world has higher cancer incidence in the geriatric population, but unfortunately, India has more cancer cases in the younger population.
There are multiple factors which predispose to cancer but approximately 60-70% cancers have modifiable risk factors. Lifestyle leading to obesity contributes to the development of many cancers like carcinoma endometrium, carcinoma breast, and carcinoma prostate.
Tobacco consumption has a strong association with approximately 30 percent of all cancers. The Indian subcontinent has the peculiarity of tobacco chewing leading to higher incidence of oral cavity cancers. The incidence of oral cavity cancers has increased to 117% than previous rates. It is a matter of concern that tobacco abuse is increasing especially in the younger population.
Air pollution has also been associated with a higher risk of cancers. In 2013, outdoor air pollution was identified as a cause of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Although the overall risk is lesser in comparison to the other risk factors such as smoking and obesity, it may have a synergistic effect. The small particles which are less than 2.5 millionths of a meter, known as PM2.5 can cause lung cancers. The risk of developing lung cancer increases as the level of PM2.5 in the air increases.
Many viral infections such as human papillomavirus, hepatitis B and C virus and Ebstein Barr virus are associated with many malignancies like carcinoma cervix, ca anal canal, liver cancers, and head and neck cancers.
So, understanding all risk factors can help us take preventive measures to prevent cancers. Risk factors like pollution require community measures to decrease health risks.
The symptoms of cancer are not unique, non-cancerous diseases can also present with similar symptoms. These include any difficulty in swallowing, change in voice, bleeding from any body orifice, a sudden change in bowel /bladder habits, loss of appetite, loss of weight etc. Any prolonged symptoms which cannot be explained should be thoroughly investigated.
If diagnosed early, cancer can nowadays be treated with good quality of life as well as higher cure rates. Even in advanced cancers, the longevity has improved in the last two decades This has become possible due to the availability of advanced imaging tools, newer targeted chemotherapy molecules, and precise radiation therapy techniques. There is a better understanding of cancer at a molecular level and hence many targeted therapies and immunotherapies have been developed. These drugs also have lesser side effect so there is a better quality of life. The newer radiation therapy machines-the linear accelerators have the ability to deliver therapy to complex sites but at the same time protect the nearby organs from the harmful effects of radiation therapy. This prevents the incidence of late side effects and improves the outcomes.
Nowadays oncologists have a holistic approach towards the cancer treatment where there is also a focus on rehabilitating and empowering the survivor to move forward in life after treatment. But as the old saying goes a stitch in time saves nine, it is important to take care of your health to identify problems early when they may be successfully treated.
Dr. Kanika Sharma Clinical Lead & Senior Consultant – Radiation Oncology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital