National Cancer Awareness Day will be observed on Wednesday, in yet another effort to raise awareness and understanding about a disease that is affecting more and more people across the world.

In India, cancers are more often associated with tobacco use but lifestyle changes are not far behind.

While non-governmental organisations are actively engaged in preventing the spread of tobacco use, one of the most important causes of cancer, oncologists call for a total ban of tobacco and tobacco products.

According to data provided by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Chennai ranks third in the country when it comes to the incidence of cancer. Lung, stomach, oesophagus and mouth, in that order, are the common sites for cancer.

Women are increasingly prone to breast cancers, followed by cancer of the cervix, ovary, stomach and mouth.

In a meeting conducted in August under the aegis of the State tobacco control cell, civil society representatives and NGOs called for increased allocation of funds in the XII Plan. This alone would improve compliance with the rules and reduce consumption of tobacco. Besides seeking allocation for tobacco control programme Mary Anne Charity Trust, one of the organisers also sought to increase the minimum fine to Rs. 500 from Rs. 200 for violating ban on smoking in public places. The programme should have specific tobacco control officers instead of the health officers who can conduct the surveillance only once a month, was one of the recommendations of the meeting.

“There are several reasons why cancer is on the rise. Prime among them is lifestyle changes,” said R. Rajaraman, oncologist and surgeon attached to Government Royapettah Hospital. “Ten years ago, cervical cancer was high in women, now it is breast cancer.” According to him one of the reasons more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer could be because of increased awareness. Early detection has also resulted in more women getting treated for the cancer.

“Similarly, head and neck cancer is more common among men because although smoking is prohibited, tobacco is not,” Dr. Rajaraman said.

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