The incidence of cancer is on the rise. The dread and despair this disease evokes, along with other factors, create a resistance to early detection. The theme for this year's World Cancer Awareness Day, which fell on November 7, was `cancer can be cured'. LEELA MENON looks into the facts behind this claim.
Smoking is still one of the main gateways to cancer
CANCER IS curable. This is a message that needs to go into society, especially now, when the incidence of cancer is on the rise. The dread, which possibilities of cancer evoke, the despair, which the incidence invokes, combine to create a resistance to early detection. Dangerous symptoms get deliberately ignored, with the disease crossing the curable stage into third or last stage.
What is urgently needed is the will and mindset to confront and control cancer. Compared to diabetes, cancer is curable, assert doctors, but it is cancer that induces panic, not diabetes.
November 7 (World Cancer Awareness Day) is also the birthday of Madam Curie who invented Radium, which is affecting cures in cancer victims.
This year, this day is being celebrated as the Day of the Cancer-Cured by the Regional Cancer Centre, in an effort to spread the message that cancer is curable.
According to available statistics, there are at least one to 1.2 lakh cancer incidences in Kerala alone at a particular time. It could be eight lakh to one million in India. The Regional Cancer Centre alone registers at least 50,000 new cases every year. In Ernakulam district, there are 10,000 cases at any point of time and 3,000 new cases annually. Kerala registers between 10,000 to 12,000 cancer deaths a year. The most common cancer in the urban male is mouth cancer, manifesting in tobacco users. Tobacco does not mean smoking alone, it also includes chewing of tobacco and one-third of cancer is currently attributed to tobacco use. Says the noted Oncologist, Dr. Mohan Nair: "Mouth cancer is curable if they come to us in the early stages."
That smoking can also cause cardio-vascular problems is either ignored or defied.
What are the symptoms, which a person should guard against? "Obesity is one. There is a strong tie between cancer and overweight," says Dr. Nair. Lifestyle has a major role to play in the incidence of cancer, like a high average diet and the absence of exercise. The alternative, of course, is a less energy-fat diet. Breast cancer, colon cancer, gastro-intestinal, prostrates... all these are related to lifestyle. In fact, 40 to 50 per cent of cancer incidence is due to the change in our lifestyle, while around five per cent is related to occupational hazards.
That psychology has a major role to play in curing cancer is now well recognised. Our mindset affects the immune system of the body. Positive signals help the immune system to combat the disease and our thinking moulds the immune system. Positive attitude has good impact on the neuro transmitters and it can scare away the disease.
Oncologists stress the need for early detection, because two-third of cancer cases get cured if detected sufficiently early. Around 35 per cent of cases arrive in hospitals in advanced stages and it can only be treated and controlled, not permanently cured. Total cure is possible only if detection is sufficiently early.
If there is a lump in the body, the person ignores it as he or she is scared of the possibility of cancer. Ignorance is often bliss in the beginning and death in the end. This thinking mode is prevalent even among the educated. Cancer still courts social stigma and people tend to magnify the possible impact, both social and psychological, on the family. Leaving it to fate can become fatal.
If detected early, the rate of cure in carcinoma of the uterus, lymphoma, leukaemia in children etc. is 40 to 50 per cent. And most urban hospitals now have adequate detection facilities. Examination of stools, gyenic examination, endoscopy, mammographic evaluation of the breast etc. aid early detection.
The most obvious and ignored symptoms are lumps (which are fast-growing or not responding to treatment) ulcer on skin or mucus membrane, or the internal skin of genitalia or oral cavity, dry cough (which changes its characteristic from a smokers cough), sputum or stools streaked with blood etc.
Even a change in the appearance of moles, like itching or colour change or bleeding is a possible symptom, say doctors.
Difficulty in swallowing solid or liquid, vomiting, loss of weight, change in bowel habits, like constipation alternating with diarrhoea, change in bladder habits like increased frequency, intermittent fever etc. also need a walk to the doctor's consulting room.
Other possible signals include unexplained loss of weight, and vaginal or coital bleeding which women are shy to talk about but which could be a manifestation of cervical cancer. "It is always better to eliminate possibilities. And doctors should also be aware of this possibility in a patient instead of shrugging it off as just hypochondria," warn Oncologists.
The Regional Cancer Centre invited cured cancer patients to the RCC on November 7. The cured share their experiences and imparted courage and solace to the afflicted currently under treatment in various hospitals. Testimonies from the cured, can, of course, be inspiring for those still under the cloud.
"There are women cured of breast, cervical and uterus cancer and men cured of oral cancer. This is a message that needs to spread," said Dr.Krishnan Nair, Director, RCC.
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