Although cancer, one of the major health challenges that India is facing in the 21st Century, no longer means the end of the world for those affected, oncologists say the lack of awareness usually leads to its detection only in the last stages.

On the eve of World Cancer Day, oncologists told The Hindu that the motto “If it is earlier, it is easier” should be widely publicised to ensure early detection and control.

M. Vijay Kumar, Director of Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, said the lack of awareness and the fact that most symptoms are painless in the initial stages are mainly responsible for people reporting late to hospitals.

“It is a must for every individual over 40 to undergo cancer tests. This will help in catching it early and treating it better. This is compulsory because nearly 80 per cent of cancers can be treated completely if detected early,” Dr. Kumar said.

“With nearly 50 per cent of the 25 lakh affected people in India suffering from oral, cervical and breast cancers, it is important to note that the first two conditions can be prevented as they are related to lifestyle. Also all the three can be treated completely because they can be diagnosed easily, even just by physical examination in most cases,” he explained.

While 20,000 new patients report to Kidwai Institute of Oncology every year, nearly two lakh visit the hospital for follow-up treatment. Of these, nearly 300 are children, he said.

Surgical oncologist K.S. Gopinath, who was awarded the Padmashri this year, said the war against cancer is a challenge. “Awareness, prevention, treatment as well as pain and disability limitation are our main goals,” he said.

“There is no single symptom to indicate the disease. Although the disease is one, it behaves differently in different parts of the body. Probably, this is one of the reasons for people reporting late for treatment. That apart, most people tend to ignore their health mostly because of their socio-economic status,” he said. While lung and oral cancers are the most prevalent among men, cervical and breast cancers are common among women. Blood cancer is most common in children, Dr. Gopinath said.