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  • World Cancer Day, 2019: Commitment to tame the disease and increasing awareness can make India cancer-free

    Published on February 4, 2019

    by: Dr Vijay Agarwal, Lead and Senior Consultant – Medical Oncology and Haematology, Aster CMI Hospital

    The word ‘cancer’ brings out the darkest of fear among most people. However, it is shocking that not many are aware of the true facts related to this deadly condition claiming about lakhs of lives every year. The year 2016 reported 106.6 new cancer cases per 100,000 people that placed India on the global radar as a country with lowest incidence of cancer. It has ranked tenth among the countries with minimal occurrence of cancer according to a recent global analysis by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Washington University. However, the situation is not as trivial in India as indicated by these numbers. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has shown that in the same year, the country suffered from a burden of 14 lakh cancer patients. We mostly blame lack of knowledge about the early signs of cancer and inability to detect it at early stages to be responsible for the whopping loss of life. This is why India needs more events like World Cancer Day for educating people about the condition that can enable one to detect, diagnose and treat the condition at the right time.

    An initiative of Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), World Cancer Day is celebrated on February 4 every year to give support, raise awareness, be vocal and press the government to take action against the alarming prevalence of this fatal condition. With #IAmAndIWill as this year’s theme, the special day aims to lend a compassionate ear to the story of struggle and victory of all cancer patients and keeping up the promise to overcome the condition. We believe that better management of cancer requires thorough commitment of all stakeholders. In India, cancer, a disease that is caused when cellular changes result in uncontrolled cell division and growth, either at a rapid or a slower rate, with or without visible growth known as tumours, is most often asymptomatic at early stages. Also, customised, tech savvy treatment procedures have remained out of reach for most patients suffering from cancer due to lack of adequate knowledge and awareness. Advanced technology and medical breakthroughs have now made cancer curable, if identified early.

    The report by IHME highlights that breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer and lung cancer are the four priority cancers contributing to 41% of cancer burden in the country. A more detailed report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in India, men are more prone to lung, oral, lip, throat and neck cancers and women suffer the most from cervix, breast and ovarian cancers. Shockingly, reports do reveal that India contributes to the world’s highest rates of cervical, gall bladder, oral and pharynx cancers. Causes for over 200 different cancers are not explicitly known and these cancers include bone cancer, leukaemia, pancreatic and eyeball cancers. Bone cancer accounts for less than 1% of all cancers but occur more commonly in children and adolescents. Inadequate personal hygiene and not having a fair sense of cleanliness can put people at a greater risk of Human papilloma virus (HPV) that further increases the risk of getting cervical cancer. People must be extra cautious if they have suffered from Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B as these two conditions considerably raise the risk of liver cancer. Breast and ovarian cancers can be genetic. However, breast cancer could also be the result of obesity. Obesity also causes cancer in uterus, large intestine and kidneys. Excessive consumption of tobacco and pan masala is the prime cause of lung and oral cancers.

    Apart from early detection of the disease and accessibility to advanced treatment, government also plays a vital role in effective tackling of cancer burden in the country. Not only has the cancer data collection in the country improved, but several important policy decisions taken by the government towards curbing cancer and other non-communicable diseases are highly commendable. Such policies include Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act (COTPA), 2003, increase in the pictorial warning size on cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products, implementation of population-based screening programs for cervical, breast and oral cancer. However, the screening techniques are still not adequate and more efforts need to be given on introducing human papillomavirus (HPV) screening keeping the financial feasibility in mind.

    There is nothing to fear about cancer if one has the will to stay away from it. Prevention is any day better than cure and hence it is essential for one to adapt a lifestyle that will help prevent the risk of cancer. Avoiding sedentary lifestyle, controlling tobacco consumption, sticking to adequate and immunity enriching diet can work wonder in keeping the condition at bay. Widespread health promotion campaigns against cancer such as the World Cancer Day should be more frequently organised in order to make laymen aware of how they can avoid as well as fight the critical disease.


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