A slow killer

A slow killer

Cancer is a disease that can affect several parts of the body be it the lungs, breasts, colon, or even blood. However, the progression of the ailment varies in different organs. As we all know, every cell in our body has a different function. When the cells are worn out or damaged, new cells take their place. Why is cancer considered a dangerous disease? That's because malignant or cancerous cells can spread to the other parts of the body and this process is called metastasis.

According to a recent survey, over 1,300 patients in India lose their lives to cancer every day. It's been observed that most of patients diagnosed with the disease are in the age group of 30 to 70.

Pancreatic cancer is deemed as the deadliest form of cancer, as pancreas are situated deep in the lower abdomen and most of us are unaware of its presence unlike the other parts of our body. Pancreas are a vital part of the digestive system and they control our blood sugar levels.

In most cases, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age. The normal age of diagnosis is around 60. Despite several new discoveries in the field of medicine, no changes have been made as far as the diagnosis of the disease is concerned. Because of the lack of proper technology to mark the symptoms, majority of pancreatic cancer cases are detected at an advanced stage causing the disease to spread to the other organs.

Thus, to fight with this killer illness and its elusive symptoms, here are few pointers all of us should be aware of:

The types: It is always good to check the facts and clear the misconceptions about the disease. There are various types of pancreatic cancers that have a drastic outcome. For an example, an adenocarcinoma tumour is also the most common type of pancreatic cancer that spreads quickly. Some people are diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, a neuroendocrine tumour, which progresses slowly.

A silent disease: Pancreatic cancer is also recognised as a silent disease because of its elusive signs and symptoms. Often, the cancer gets detected when it reaches the advanced stage. Moreover, when there are early signs, they may be unclear and easily tied to another disease. Potential symptoms may include fatigue, back pain, abdominal pain, and inflammation of the pancreas.

Leading cause of deaths: In many developed countries, pancreatic cancer is labelled as the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths. Unfortunately, of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, just 6% survive for just five years, and those with advanced cancer die within a year. The risk factors are smoking, inflammation of the pancreas, hereditary pancreatitis, diabetes and obesity.

Awareness: Although there is an increase in awareness and advanced medical facilities in India, there is a huge gap between the detection and survival rates for cancer patients. One plausible reason for the delayed diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is that the treatment is complex and the probability of beating the disease at its root is also low. This could be due to insufficient information about the disorder and socio-economic factors. The genetic constitution of an individual cannot be altered. What can be altered, improved upon is health education? A healthy lifestyle including regular physical activity, weight management and healthy eating habits is the best way to fight pancreatic cancer.

Advanced research: Researchers are on their toes to find a cure that can facilitate early diagnosis and . These researchers also offer hope for an early detection test, more effective long-term treatments and - ultimately - a cure.

(The author is co-director, Dept. Of Medical Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre)

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