Shun indifference over this deadly disease

You don’t have to be a lung cancer survivor, or a pati­ent or a relative of a cancer patient to join this fight against the disease. Just knowing that it is the number one killer in our country today should be enough to shake you from your indifference towards this disease.

Statistics, based on 2009-2011 data, say approximately 6.8 per cent of men and women will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer at some point during their lifetime. This means that none of us are safe from this disease.

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer and has always been a part of ‘are you a smoker?’ blame game, though as a matter of fact a sub-set of people who passively smoke or not at all, are also prone to this disease.

Dr Rajeev Goyal, pulmonologist from Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute, says that “people who smoke 20 cigarettes per day, per year are most prone to cancer.”

“The disease is rarely seen in kids or young adults and is common among people above the age of 45. This disease has symptoms similar to that of Tuberculosis and hence is often confused with this ailment,” says Dr Goyal.

“Smoking kills, but people who do not acquire the disease also should be aware that tobacco products do nothing for health. Diagnosing cancer at an early stage may not cure the disease, but will definitely increase the quality and quantity of life,” says Dr Raj Kumar, professor, pulmonologist from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute.

British medical journal, The Lancet in its findings earlier this year estimated 1·7 million new cases of cancer and 1·2 million cancer-related deaths in 2035. The disease is a major public health challenge in India. Breast cancer (145, 000 cases per year), tobacco-related head and neck cancers (141 000), cervical cancer (123, 000), lung cancer (70, 000), large bowel cancer (64, 000), and stomach cancer (63 000) implies that the issue cannot be ignored, the journal said. Significantly less than 30 per cent of cancer patients in India survive for more than five years after their diagnosis.

Indu Devi from Jharkhand has to give four units of blood for her four-year old son, who has cancer. Living outside the premises of the country’s premier medical institute, for the past seven months, the woman is not yet certain of the cancer her son has acquired.

“From where will I get four units of blood? It has to be given tomorrow or else the operation will get cancelled,” says Indu Devi.

Dr Kumar says that “illiterate people may not be aware of Rotary Camps and places like ‘Red Cross’ but readers do. Only if people donate blood will the needy get blood,” he said urging people to come forward and be a part of blood donation camps. 

Like Indu Devi and her family, at least 25 families are living outside the AIIMS Metro station and, at least 15 of them have cancer of one or the other type. Since most of them are illiterate, they are unable to understand what has gripped them. But they do know that it is a “fatal disease”. With winter making its chill felt in the Capital, their plight is even more unfortunate, given that most of them are from poor families and have little money to spend on food, medicine and treatment.

Take the case of Krishna Mohan Sharma, from Bihar, whose 10-year-old son Chandrashekhar suffers from cancer. The old father and the ailing boy had to come back to Delhi after Chandrashekhar suddenly took violently ill. The family now does not know what cancer he suffers from.

Yurender Singh, from Bihar whose wife suffers from a stomach ailment which the “doctors have diagnosed as cancer” says he has already spent Rs 90,000 on her treatment and has “no idea how much more of a financial burden he will have to face.” And this is the stark reality of the disease and the burden it places on the family, especially a
rural household.

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