When doctor-turned-IAS officer Keerti Tiwari was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, it seemed to her like the end of the world. Shock, disbelief, denial and depression swept over her.

As a doctor, she knew what the disease entailed. But as any other patient, this 46-year-old principal director of audit in the Indian Audit and Accounts Department was afraid she would not survive or would lose her breasts.

“But that is a misconception. We now have advanced prevention and treatment methods, and new technologies to manage the disease,” Ms. Tiwari says.

After seven months of treatment, she managed to fight the disease. “I counsel others not to lose hope. It’s not just you. Thirty out of every one lakh Indian women suffer from breast cancer,” she says.

Awareness about cancer is increasing, but several myths and misconceptions persist. This year’s World Cancer Day — observed on February 4 — is aimed at dispelling these misconceptions.

Can be avoided

Oncologists say nearly 70 per cent of cancers can be avoided by maintaining a balanced, low-fat, fibre-rich diet, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and exercising regularly.

“Early detection is vital to contain the spread of the disease. Cancer is no longer related only to genetic factors but has a lot to do with lifestyle,” says Govind Babu, consultant medical oncologist at HCG in Bangalore.

Best form of treatment

M. Vijay Kumar, director of Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, says the common misconception is that surgery (biopsy) will only cause the disease to spread.

“But without biopsy, how can we treat the cancer?” He adds: “Treatment is not universal. It depends on the type and the organ that is affected.”

Many people still prefer traditional medicine, turning to allopathy only at an advanced stage when other systems have not worked, Dr. Kumar says.