Be proactive rather than reactive to Cancer, this World Cancer Day.

India recorded an estimated 3.9 million cancer cases in 2016, data available with the National Cancer Registry Programme of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) shows. The worst affected states were Uttar Pradesh with 674,386 cases, followed by Maharashtra with 364,997 and Bihar with 359,228. In South India, Tamil Nadu recorded 222,748 cases, Karnataka 202,156, Andhra Pradesh 159,696, Telangana 115,333 and Kerala 115,511 cases of cancer. Ravi Mehrotra, Director at the ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research says, “The numbers are too high in UP, Maharashtra and Bihar because these are the most populous states in the country. But if we look at the percentage of cancer in population, the prevalence and incidence (the number of new cases per population at risk in a given time period) are much higher in North East region such as Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Cancer cases in India are shooting up, not just because life expectancy has increased by more than a decade in 15 years — from 57.9 years in 1990 to 68.3 years in 2015, “ but also because of tectonic shift in the way we live our lives. Tobacco and alcohol use, processed food and diets low fresh food and vegetables, air pollution, inactivity and obesity are among the primary triggers, which have made non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart diseases, cancers and stroke account for 61% of all deaths in India, up from 37.9% in 1990. Around 1.45 million people in India are diagnosed with cancers each year, with the leading sites being breast and cervix in women and lung and mouth cavity in men. By 2020, cancer cases are projected to cross 1.73 million.

Every year an astonishing rate of 7 lakh new cases are registered as cancer cases. It is quietly becoming an epidemic, in spite of the dearth of knowledge about prevention and early diagnosis available in India. A stark statistic is that of India, who continues to have a low survival rate for breast cancer, with only 66.1% women diagnosed with the disease between 2010 and 2014 surviving, a Lancet study has found. The US and Australia, in comparison had survival rates as high as 90%, the study said. The gist of this is the means to combat the disease are available and growing everyday, but the awareness about the condition along with few tinkering lifestyle changes; we can reduce the chances of the disease rearing its treacherous face.

Ignorance and denial leads to delayed diagnosis and treatment; most Indians change doctors when asked to go in for a screening or biopsy. Other than the fear of invasive treatment, disfigurement, lack of diagnostic centres and knowledgeable oncologists in tier II and tier III cities and financial burden, the ill-placed belief that a cancer patient will always die makes patients and their families refuse specialised treatment. Hence, when it comes to cancer, it is important to remember that early treatment is the best treatment. Experts suggest that if you notice any other major changes in the way your body functions or feels, you should see a doctor, especially if the changes persist for more than three weeks or gets worse. It may not be cancer but it is safer to get it checked out.

One does not have to be a medical professional to know some tell-tale signs and methods to prevent the occurrence of cancer. There are seven warning signs mentioned by NICPR (National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research) and the American Cancer Society has given a very apt acronym for easy referral called CAUTION

C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
A: A sore that does not heal
U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
I: Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
O: Obvious change in a wart or mole
N: Nagging cough or hoarseness

Most of these symptoms can occur due to many non-malignant disorders, and different types of cancer can lead to symptoms like unexplained weight loss and appetite.

Another important aspect in reducing the prevalence of cancer is knowledge of how certain lifestyle changes can prevent cancer from rearing its nefarious head. Some important lifestyle changes that a healthy/unaware individual can incorporate in their daily lives are:

Refraining from tobacco use in any form: Most cancers of the mouth and lung occur due to long-term tobacco use. Avoid inhalation of second-hand smoke as well.

Watch what you eat: Limit spicy, fried, preserved and junk food, red meats, charbroiled foods. These foods increase the risk of colon and prostate cancer. Opt for a diet containing whole grains, lean meats, vegetables and fruits.

Get off the sofa: A sedentary lifestyle is linked to many cancers of the digestive tract. Excess fat in the body has been associated with cancers of the breast and ovaries. Be physically active; try to keep a check on your weight.

Just one drink: Excess alcohol can cause cancers of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, liver and colon and breast cancers in women. Smoking further increases the risk. If you choose to, limit yourself to no more than 1-2 drinks a day.

Practice safe sex: Individuals indulging in unsafe sexual practices or heterogeneous partners endanger themselves to infections like hepatitis, HIV, HPV (human papilloma virus) which can lead to many types of cancers.

Avoiding or limiting exposure to different environmental carcinogens, go for regular screenings; both self and professional and encouraging loved ones to do the same, can go a long way in preventing cancers thus allaying fears of body disfigurements, financial loss, and mental trauma.
This World Cancer Day, for the years of 2016-2018 the tagline is We can. I can. We can defeat cancer by proactively bringing about certain lifestyle changes, which are not at all difficult to incorporate. We need to show the tenacity, desire, awareness and the knowledge to learn more about the ways to prevent cancer from creeping in our bodies in the first place, rather than reacting to the dire consequences cancer throws at us. As the age old saying goes “Prevention is better than cure, nowhere is this idiom more congruous than in these situations. Let us unite and live up to their motto and nip cancer in the bud before it has far-reaching consequences.

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