Ahead of the World Cancer Day on February 4, we spoke to experts about the dreaded global epidemic.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the world. Bollywood celebs such as Irfan Khan, Sonali Bendre, Rishi Kapoor, Lisa Ray and Manisha Koirala have fought cancer, and most of them have been on record about their healthy eating and disciplined lifestyles.
Clearly, the dreadful disease doesn’t discriminate. “Bad eating or poor lifestyle habits contribute to only about 35%of factors leading to cancer,” explains Dr Vijay Anand Reddy, oncologist and radiation-specialist, Apollo Hospitals. “Rest of the cases happen accidentally, with several other factors such as genetics, virus infections, environmental, hormonal, late marriages, not having children, late pregnancy, smoking or chewing tobacco and alcohol abuse adding to the risks.”
Dr K.V. Krishnamani, consultant medical oncologist,CARE Cancer Institute, then reminds us that cancer is caused by changes or mutations to the DNA in the cells and that it often has the ability to spread throughout the body.
What causes cancer?
As per Dr Krishnamani, while most people diagnosed with cancer are 65 years or older, age is not always the criterion. “Additionally, keep in mind, having an inherited genetic mutation does not necessarily mean one can get cancer,” he adds. The following points are usually associated with the disease.
n Age: While cancer is more common among older adults, it isn’t exclusive to them — cancer can be diagnosed at any age, including in children. Moreover, cancer can take decades to develop.
n Habits: Certain lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, tobacco chewing, excessive exposure to the sun, obesity and unsafe sex can all increase one’s risk of getting cancer.
n Family history: Notably, only a small portion of cancers (roughly 5-10%) is because of an inherited condition.
n Health conditions: Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers (e.g., colon cancer).
n Environment: Even if you do not smoke, inhaling second-hand smoke can result in cancer. Additionally, chemicals at home or in the workplace, such as asbestos and benzene, also are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Complications of the disease
Cancer and cancer treatment are mostly synonymous with pain, but experts tell us that not all cancers are painful.
n Fatigue: While fatigue associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments is common, it is usually temporary.
n Nausea and vomiting: Certain cancers and cancer treatments can induce nausea and vomiting.
n Weight loss: In most cases, the weight loss is because the cancer and cancer treatment lead to loss of taste and sometimes nausea and vomiting, resulting in decreased food intake and thus the weight loss.
n Brain and nervous system problems: Cancer that involves the brain can cause headaches and stroke-like signs and symptoms, such as weakness on one side of your body and seizures.
n Paraneoplastic syndrome:These are very rare reactions leading to a variety of signs and symptoms, such as difficulty walking and seizures.
Prevention is better than cure
As is the case with most diseases, it is possible to, at least, get a head start with the disease. For starters, schedule cancer-screening exams at regular intervals.
n Dietary habits: Include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes as a part of usual diet.
n Physical fitness: Regular physical exercises help in fighting against colon, breastand endometrial cancers.
n Avoiding supplements: Ensure that your diet, not supplements, is the source of vitamins, minerals, proteins.
n Tobacco and alcohol: Abstain from consuming tobacco and alcohol.
n Avoid excessive sun exposure: Staying indoors or in the shade, or ensure you regularly applysunscreen.
n Immunisations: Inoculations, vaccinations and shots may help prevent viruses, including Hepatitis B, which increase the risk of liver cancer, as well as human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the risk of cervical and other cancers.
However, there is optimism in Dr K.VKrishnamani’s voice when he says, “Survival rates are improving for many types of cancer today, thanks to improvements in cancer screening and cancer treatment.”