According to the World Health Organisation, India had an estimated 1.16 million new cancer cases in 2018 and 784,800 cancer deaths. With the rise of urbanisation and unhealthy lifestyle choices, these numbers are only expected to rise. However, medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past few decades and cancer is not considered as a death sentence. Currently, about two-thirds of cancer cases are diagnosed only when they reach an advanced stage, this reduces a patient’s chances of cure and survival. But early detection of cancer has the potential to save lives through better survival outcomes and chances at effective cures.
The attitude towards health
In India, the attitude towards healthcare has always been to seek intervention only when required. More often than not, this translates to patients ignoring initial symptoms and warning signs, and they approach a doctor only when things get very serious. This outlook has to undergo a change. Early detection in cases of breast cancer and uterine cancer in women or lung cancers in men, lead to much better survival outcomes because the cancer is detected before it has spread to other parts of the body from its organ of origin.
Why people need to be more vigilant about cancer
For women over the age of 40, it is highly advisable to have a regular breast examination and mammography. For women between the ages of 40 to 74, early screening for breast cancer has been shown to reduce mortality. Similarly, for cervical cancer, Pap tests and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing reduces incidence of cervical cancer because abnormal cells are identified and treated before they become cancerous. For colorectal cancer—that is slightly more common in men than women—tests such as colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs) can reduce incidences of death. Tests like colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy can help prevent colorectal cancer because they can instantly detect abnormal colon growths i.e. (polyps) that can be removed before they develop into cancer.
A healthy lifestyle to keep cancer at bay
These are just a few instances of preventive cancer care options, in addition to this, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial to lowering cancer risk. As an oncologist, I cannot stress enough on the importance of avoiding smoking and tobacco usage, and having controlled alcohol consumption. Our bodies are designed to fight off disease, but with the proliferation of unhealthy lifestyles that entail increased consumption of processed foods and sedentary routines, the risk of developing cancer in any part of the body does increase.
Cancer is often seen as something beyond our control, and while in many cases that is unfortunately true, we as individuals have the power to invest in our health through regular health checkups and adoption of better lifestyles. The theme for this year’s World Cancer Day – ‘I Am and I Will’ is an embodiment of this very message, it is a call to action that urges for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future.
MD DM, Consultant Oncologist, Saifee Hospital