Conquering Cancer

Conquering Cancer

Cancer is one of the most feared diseases in the world. Yet, it remains widely prevalent across the world. What’s disturbing is that in spite of significant advances in the understanding of cancer and its treatment, the combined death rate from all cancers is not dramatically different than what it was 25 years ago. The causes of most cancers are still unknown, although occurrence increases with age and multiple risk factors have been identified.

For the uninitiated, cancer is a disease of tiny building blocks called cells. Ordinarily, cell division takes place in an orderly and controlled manner. But for some reason, if this process gets out of control and the cells continue to divide, a lump called "tumour" develops. Tumours can be either benign or malignant. Unlike benign tumours, which are not life threatening, malignant tumours invade and damage nearby tissues and organs causing what is known as cancer.

According to the Cancer Aid and Research Foundation, an Indian charitable organisation, it is estimated that approximately one million new cancer cases will be recorded every year and at any given time there will be three million cancer patients in India. Other statistics suggest that one in every 12 Indians is expected to get some form of cancer before they reach the age of 64. With such alarming rates, it is sad that there is so little awareness among the general public about cancer.

An awareness programme on cancer was recently hosted by the New Bengal Club of Thane (NBC), which is a socio-cultural association that organises a number of welfare and developmental activities for the benefit of the society. About 75 people aged between 20 and 70 turned up at the Little Flower School auditorium in Lok Puram to listen to eminent oncologist Dr Shantikumar Chivate, who gave an informative slideshow and talk on cancer and its possible causes. Dr Chivate’s address was lucid and witty and most importantly, gave hope to people. "Cancer is an educational illness, not a dreaded illness. If detected early, cancer is completely curable," he said.

He elaborated on the signs of early detection that include issues like wounds not healing, uncontrollable blood discharges, beauty spots or warts growing in size, loss of appetite, change in voice, persistent cough, any change in bowels and any other abnormalities. He emphasised the terrifying role of tobacco as one of the biggest causes of cancers. Sixty per cent of all cancers in India are causes by smoking or chewing tobacco. Cancer of the lips, cheeks, gums, tongue, pharynx, larynx, lungs and oesophagus are the result of consuming tobacco in some form or the other. An interesting titbit was that if a person smokes 10 cigarettes a day, then as a result of passive inhalation, his family smokes three. Dr Chivate is known to be a crusader against tobacco addiction and is the President of TASK, an NGO promoting tobacco de-addiction.

When someone from the audience asked Dr Chivate to explain lung cancer in patients who do not smoke, he said that cancer cells are present in all of our bodies and factors such as air pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals can also trigger cancer. Later, he elaborated on cancers specific to men and women and highlighted major risk groups, the different grades in cancer and how to prevent cancer. He said that unlike many of our foreign counterparts, we Indians are less likely to suffer from skin cancers caused by exposure to sunlight because of the high level of melanin.

After his presentation, one thing was clear — that cancer is indeed an educational illness and its prevalence and incidence can be greatly reduced if enough awareness is created. But awareness is just the first step: finally, it is up to every individual to conquer cancer by giving up self-defeating lifestyles.

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