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Early detection can help nip cancer in the bud

The Times of India
04 February 2009
Bangalore, India

There will be 14 lakh new cases of cancer every year by 2026. If that is dangerous, then digest this. The WHO estimates that 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015, without intervention!

Cancer has become one of the 10 leading causes of death in India. At any given point of time, there are nearly 1.5 million cancer cases.

Data from population-based registries under the National Cancer Registry Programme indicate that the leading sites of cancer are oral cavity, lungs, oesophagus and stomach among men, and cervix, breast and oral cavity among women. Cancers, namely oral and in lungs in males, and cervix and breast in females, account for over 50% of all cancer deaths in India.

WHO has estimated that 91 per cent of oral cancers in South-East Asia are directly attributable to the use of tobacco, and is the leading cause of oral cavity and lung cancer in India.

What is cancer?
Cancer is an abnormal growth of a cell or an organ due to a specific stimulus (carcinogen). This growth is an uncoordinated, purposeless one, which continues to grow even after the cessation or withdrawal of the stimulus.

What are the types of cancer?
Cancer can originate from any organ or part of the body. The natural behaviour of a particular cancer depends upon the site of involvement and the histopathological type of the cancer. Some of the cancers are very mild and can be controlled very easily, while some are very aggressive and results of treatment are very poor.

How does cancer spread?
As cancer grows, it invades the surrounding structures and interferes with local function. It spreads to the draining lymph nodes through the lymphatic. Through the blood streams, it spreads to the other parts of the body. The common organs of distant metastasis are lung, liver, bones, brain etc.

What are the causes of cancer?
The exact cause of cancer is not yet known. However, there are certain risk factors, which may cause this disease in individuals prone to cancer. Among the common factors are chemicals, which may be in the form of tobacco or chemicals present in food, air, water, etc. These chemicals are known as carcinogens. Till now, about 60 agents have been identified.

Some common risk factors of cancer
  • Tobacco
    • Smoking: Cigarette, beedi, cigar, hukka, others
    • Smokeless: Zarda, gutka, khaini, snuff etc
  • Alcohol
  • Infections (viruses, parasites, bacteria)
  • Electromagnetic radiation (ionising radiation, ultraviolet rays, others)
  • Diet (dietary carcinogens)
  • Occupational exposure to carcinogens
  • Pollution (air/water/food)
  • Reproductive hormones
  • Heredity
Is cancer a preventable disease?
In a majority of Indian patients, cancer can definitely be prevented. About 50% of cancers are tobacco-related eg. lung cancer, oral cancer (cancer of mouth), laryngeal cancer (voice box), oesophageal cancer (food pipe) and they can be prevented to a large extent by avoiding intake of tobacco. Certain other cancers like bowel cancer can also be prevented by dietary habits.

What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
The signs and symptoms depend upon the body part affected by the disease. The primary tumour or spread of tumour to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body may cause symptoms. In general, cancer has a tendency to start as a nodule or mass of tissue, which keeps on growing. The growth rate of cancers is variable, with some growing very rapidly and others growing slowly. With further growth, cancers which affect external or internal body surfaces can form wounds or ulcers, leading to dirty discharge, bleeding etc.

Is cancer curable?
Yes, if detected early.

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