It is a dreaded disease, but the fact is, cancer is very curable. The watchword, however, is early detection. And on the positive side, cancer is preventable to a great extent. Here’s what you ought to know about recognising and preventing cancer.

Twin villains

In India, 50 to 60 per cent of cancer in men and 30 per cent of cancer in women is tobacco-induced. “If we eliminate the tobacco habit , we can prevent four out of every 10 instance of cancer,” says Dr. Ravi Kannan, senior oncologist and oncosurgeon. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer in the food pipe. The risk multiplies manifold for people who indulge in both alcohol and tobacco.

Treat infections

Some infections can promote the onset of cancer. For instance, some women do not get HPV infection treated promptly. Over the years they could get cervical cancer. The main symptoms of HPV infection are white discharge, bleeding after coitus or dispareunia. “Women with HPV should get themselves screened for pre-cancer too; for, at this stage, cervical cancer is 100 per cent treatable,” says Dr. Ravi Kannan.

Likewise, liver cancer is induced by Hepatitis B and C viruses. Vaccines can prevent Hepatitis B infections. The H-pylori bacterial infection is a cause of gastric cancer, while the Epstein Barr virus can cause nasopharyngeal cancer. So, if you do catch these infections, get them treated promptly and conclusively.

Food and exercise

Eating food preserved by salting can induce gastric cancer. Likewise, improperly stored groundnuts can cause fungal growth, and the aflatoxin created by these fungi can induce liver cancer. “Even reheating cold food (prepared and stored in the refrigerator) can cause cancer,” says Dr. S. Vijayaraghavan, chief clinical oncologist, Paterson Cancer Center. He suggests that refrigerated food should not be reheated but allowed to come to room temperature slowly before it is consumed. It’s best to avoid pre-processed food which asks you to ‘just reheat’ it! Dr. Vijayaraghavan continues, “Avoid food preservatives, artificial colorants, chemically contaminated food, smoked food and charred food.” Moving on to water… Nitrites in well water can pose a cancer risk.

Consuming banned or outdated drugs can be cancer inducing, as also exposure to excessive sunlight exposure.

Diet and exercise go hand in hand in promoting health and preventing cancer, especially cancers of the colon, uterine, ovarian and breast. Incidentally, these four types of cancer can be hereditary and can occur together. So, screen for the other three if cancer of any one of them is suspected”, recommends Dr. Ravi Kannan. A diet low in fibre can induce cancer of the colon. A healthy diet includes intake of large quantities of a variety of vegetables and fruits, a low-fat, low-salt and high-fibre food. “A depressed mind might also just make your body more at risk for acquiring cancer”, Dr. Vijayaraghavan says.

Watch out for these symptoms

Any sore that refuses to heal

Any swelling that appears suddenly,

Unexplained bleeding (from any natural body opening), indigestion, body pain

Loss of weight (of over 10% in the last six months), loss of appetite

Unexplained fever and decline in health, prolonged fatigue, pain

Change in bowel habits, difficulty/burning sensation on urinating

Difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness of voice, chronic coughing, shortness of breadth

Pain when coughing or breathing

Unexplained skin change, changes in moles/warts

Of course, many cancer symptoms can be confused with common health issues. “But if you notice signs of cancer, consult your doctor immediately. Do not wait. If it is cancer, early detection will give you a great chance for a full recovery. If turns out not to be cancer, you will at least be tension-free on ruling out cancer”, says Dr. K. Raghavan. Cancer being hereditary too, if somebody in the family has had cancer, then we need to be all the more on guard. Cancer can strike the young too, but older persons need to be even more wary.

“Importantly, all of us have a certain body structure and pattern of physiological function that we are familiar with. If you notice a change in it, you need to screen for cancer”, cautions Dr. Ravi Kannan. The common example is a development of a lump or tenderness in the breast or testicle, or discharge from the nipple. But there are other seemingly simple possibilities. For instance, if you normally urinate once during night sleep, but suddenly start doing so three times during the same period. In the case of cancer, the adage ‘Better safe than sorry’ holds so true.