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Cancer in India and The Fight Against It: What Every Indian Should Know

The news comes like a sledgehammer into the stomach: “I’m sorry to tell you, but you have cancer”. Every year, lakhs of Indians are devastated by news of cancer. On an average, more than 1,300 Indians succumb to the dreaded disease every day. With new cancer cases or its incidence in India estimated to grow by 25% by 2020 (according to the cancer registry released by the Indian Council of Medical Research), cancer has become one of the major causes of death occurring in the country. Women, especially, are being increasingly diagnosed with cancer. Yet, when the topic comes up in drawing room discussions or family gatherings, it’s delicately brushed under the carpet.

With the deadly disease striking deep roots in India, it is important know about cancer and what you can do about it. This Cancer Awareness Day, increase your knowledge of this disease.

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What is it?

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases that are caused when a group of abnormal cells begins to grow uncontrollably, often forming a tumour.

There are two types of tumours. The first is benign tumours that do not spread into, or invade, nearby tissues. When removed they usually don’t grow back. An important fact is that unlike most benign tumors elsewhere in the body, benign brain tumors can be life threatening.

The other type of tumours are malignant, or tumours that invade nearby tissues, sometimes spreading to distant areas of the body (known as metastasizing). This tumour are more dangerous as they give rise to new tumours and can recur even after removal.

The good news is that if cancer is detected in its early stages, it can be treated and an individual can lead a healthy life. Also, advances in treatment and awareness of symptoms mean that 85 per cent of those diagnosed live beyond five years.

The cancer scenario in India

The number of cancer cases in India is increasing every year. According to WHO’s Cancer Report, in India, lung, oral, lip, throat and neck cancers are the most common among men while women suffer more from cervix, breast and ovarian cancers. In the elderly, the most commonly occurring cancers are kidney, intestine and prostate cancer.

Here are some informational statistics.

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Are you at risk?

It is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t. However, research has shown that certain risk factors may increase a person’s chances of developing cancer. These include things people cannot control, like age and family history. Lifestyle choices that increase your chances of contracting breast cancer are the usual suspects such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and poor diet.

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Some causes of cancer
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Cancer is notoriously stealthy, so its important not to miss those cues. 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 and financial burden, the ill-placed belief that a cancer patient will always die makes patients and their families refuse specialised treatment. The importance of awareness can be seen from the fact that in highly literate Kerala, 40% cases are detected early, a fact that ultimately leads to fewer deaths.

Hence, when it comes to cancer, its 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 its safer to get it checked out.

Here’s a chart of common symptoms that may be a cause for concern.

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A Geographic Pathology Study of Cancer in India

Regional variation in cancer incidence and mortality is driven by multiple factor. Other than internal factors like genetic, hormonal and poor immune conditions, external or environmental factors like food habits, industrialization, pollution and lifestyle can also cause cancer. This is why a geographic pathology study can give some indication of the proportion of cancers that could be prevented by modifying specific harmful lifestyle or environmental factors.
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Combating cancer

Cancer is slowly becoming an epidemic. Here are some things you can do to aid prevention and early diagnosis of this disease.

1. While thinking ‘it could be me’ is scary, its a though that can do more good than harm. Pay attention to symptoms and get check-ups regularly.

2. If some of your family members or parents are reluctant to get checked, take the responsibility upon yourself and ensure that they do what is necessary, however reluctant they may be.

3. Women, especially those over 40 years old, should go for regular screening for early detection of breast cancer.

The table below shows the four types of cancer where screening is recommended and have been proven to be effective.

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4. Using any type of tobacco puts you on a collision course with cancer. Avoiding tobacco — or deciding to stop using it — is one of the most important health decisions you can make and also an important part of cancer prevention.

5. Proper filtration of tap water can reduce your exposure to known or suspected carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals.

6. Vaccines also help lower cancer risk. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other kinds of cancer, and the Hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.

7. Drinking plenty of water and other liquids may reduce the risk of bladder cancer by diluting the concentration of cancer-causing agents in urine and helping to flush them through the bladder faster.

8. Making changes such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is an important step towards cancer prevention. Eat organic and load up on antioxidants. The following guide will help you do this!

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A Second Chance

Cancer is difficult to beat but its not impossible. Manisha Koirala bravely fought ovarian cancer to recover from it completely. Diagnosed at the age of 54, Mumtaz bravely fought and survived breast cancer. Yuvraj Singh returned to cricket after beating germ cell cancer and Lisa Ray bounced back after defeating an aggressive bone marrow myeloma. Anurag Basu was given two months to live but he fought and survived fought an acute promyelocytic leukemia. Having been given a second chance, these cancer crusaders know the vital importance of early detection and are now campaigning to raise awareness about it.

With a cancer epidemic haunting the nation, Indians need to arm themselves with knowledge. Experts say that the future of the battle against cancer depends about people’s awareness about their body the lifestyle changes they make. This article is an effort to raise much-needed awareness about this deadly disease. Don’t let cancer take you by surprise!

YouWeCan is an initiative taken by Yuvraj Singh foundation to fight against cancer by creating awareness about the disease, its prevention and raising funds.

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Written by Sanchari Pal

A lover of all things creative and happy, Sanchari is a biotech engineer who fell in love with writing and decided to make it her profession. She is also a die-hard foodie, a pet-crazy human, a passionate history buff and an ardent lover of books. When she is not busy at The Better India, she can usually be found reading, laughing at silly cat videos and binge-watching TV seasons.