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Cancer Risk Higher with Western Lifestyle

04 February 2009
Kochi, India

Cancer, a leading cause of death around the world, is a global burden. WHO estimates that 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015 without intervention.

“Every year one million people fall prey to this disease in India. About 30 to 40 percent of cancer cases are linked to lifestyle disorders. And in Kerala it is mostly breast cancer cases that are being reported,” says Dr Mohan Nair, who heads the Cancer Care wing at Specialists Hospital in the city.

Kerala society is dominated by the semi-urban middle class and breast cancer is mostly detected among them. “Cancer is a lifestyle disease only to a certain extent,” says Dr Mohan.

Lack of fibre intake, heavy intake of red meat and tinned food, and smoking are linked to cancer but they are not the only factors. “Till 1960 cervical cancer was common. It was due to frequent pregnancies, lack of hygiene, early sexual interaction etc. But now it is has been replaced by breast cancer,” says the doctor.

A richer diet, smaller families, delayed childbearing, reduced breast-feeding, early menstruation and late menopause have led to a gradual increase in breast cancer cases together with rising obesity and increased alcohol consumption, specialists say.

Women in the age group of 40 to 60 are at the highest risk.

“But in the US it is women in their 70’s that are mostly affected.

The reasons are unknown.

One reason could be that awareness about this disease is still low in our state,” he says.

The focus should be on prevention for which cancer screening is important. “Women should do self examination on a regular basis from their 20s onwards.

Those who are 40 and above should go for mammography evaluation once in six months,” he says.

Women with a family history of cancer must undergo mammography on a regular basis starting from age 35. “Unfortunately, most cases are detected at the third or fourth stage.

Hence it becomes difficult to cure,” he says. He also stresses the importance of palliative care or a good support system for cancer patients.

Fortunately, cervical cancer cases have come down drastically and it is expected that with the invention of preventive vaccination for cervical cancer the younger generation will be relieved of this threat within 25 to 30 year’s time.

We can only hope that preventive measures will be there for all kinds of cancer in future.

Until then all we can do is make lifestyle changes and undergo physical examination at least once a year.

Key risk factors for cancer
  • Tobacco use
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Alcohol use
  • Long-term contraceptive use or intake
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Urban air pollution
  • Indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels
Prevention strategies
  • Avoiding the risk factors listed above as much as possible
  • Vaccination against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection
  • Pregnancy at the right age
  • Reduced exposure to sunlight
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