February is observed as ‘Cancer awareness month’. The fear of cancer remains unconquered in the minds of ordinary people. Doctors say to prevent cancer we have to fight cancer and the only weapon available is to spread awareness.
“Cancer” is said to occur due to unregulated growth of cells in any part of the body or blood which leads to malfunctioning of the affected organ, which in due course can spread from one part to another part of the body.
Cancer occurs due to disturbance in the function of genes within the cells of human body, that ultimately causes dysregulated growth and function of affected cells. The genetic damage that triggers the process of cancer is mostly due to acquired factors called “ carcinogens ” ; like exposure to chemicals ( dyes, tobacco, heavy metals, dietary substances ), radiation ( electromagnetic and ionizing radiation ) and sometimes hormonal excess in the body. A small proportion of cancer occurs due to hereditary genetic defects passed on across generations.
Over 2.5 million cases of cancer are being treated every year in India. As per the International agency for Research on Cancer ( IARC ) – WHO report, around 5.5 lakh people die of cancer every year. Men in India most commonly suffer from cancers lung , oral cavity , throat and prostate. Tobacco in some form or the other (smoked or dry products) contributes to majority of cancer deaths in men. Indian women suffer commonly from cancers of breast and cervix. It is shocking that the incidence of tobacco related cancers of oral cavity, throat and lung, is also increasing in Indian women.
It is very unfortunate that around one in every five cancer deaths in men occur during the productive age of 30 to 69 years, that not only shatters country’s workforce and economy but also the social livelihood of any family. Also tobacco continues to be a culprit in majority of the cases. Even passive smoking poses risk to cancer and various lung diseases. This may be one reason for rising lung cancer deaths in women.
Creating awareness about recognizing possible warning signs of cancer among physicians, nurses and other health care providers and the people can have a great impact on the disease outcome. Taking prompt action leads to early diagnosis of cancer. Some early signs of cancer include persistent lumps in various parts of the body, especially painless lumps in breasts;, ulcers that fail to heal, bleeding in women in between periods or after sexual intercourse, long standing difficulty in swallowing, abnormal bleeding tendency, chronic hoarseness and change of voice , especially in chronic smokers. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon and rectum, and skin.
Two different problems, totally unwarranted do occur in the common man. With an increasing awareness on cancer, the fear of getting diagnosed with cancer runs high even for small routine day to day issues. On the other extreme is the bigger problem, neglecting the vital signs and symptoms of cancer. It is very re assuring that many times when one goes to a doctor to confirm doubtful symptoms it is not cancer. So the best practice would be to clear doubts and go for an early check when one suspects one or more of the signs suspicious of cancer. If someone is detected to have cancer, one needs to make sure they are in right hands for treatment; since cancer does not give a “second chance” on most occasions.
To be continued next Thursday
(This is the first part of the four-part series)
(The writer is In charge of the "Cancer Prevention and Early cancer detection Project of Udhavum Ullangal and Cancer Institute Adyar-Chennai for Tirunelveli and South Tamil Nadu districts)
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