Combating cancer: nature holds key

Combating cancer: nature holds key

Despite a consistently growing quantum of research on the origin, surveillance and treatment of cancer and massive spending globally, only 70% of those living with this dreaded disease survive five years from its onset. The bulk of treatment methods viz. chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, involve much pain and severe side effects.

Newer, less toxic and less painful therapies have brought significant relief in managing cancers and some decline in mortality due to cancer has been recorded in a few developed countries (US, Denmark, Sweden and Slovakia) as per a study published in The Lancet. Yet, overall, it remains a serious health threat worldwide

Globally, over 7 million deaths occur due to cancer yearly. In 2016, $113 billion was spent on therapeutic and supportive care of those living with the disease, a figure projected to grow to $147 billion by 2021.

In lay terms, cancer is the attrition of healthy cells due to loss of activity over time. Only those body parts and organs that remain active maintain blood flow essential to stay healthy; this purpose is served by regular exercise prescribed for fitness. Sedentary living is known to raise cancer risk especially that of colon or lung or among men and endometrial and breast cancer among women.

"Physical activity: even if you don't lose an ounce, you'll live longer, feel healthier and be less likely to get cancer, heart disease, stroke and arthritis. It's the closest thing we have to a wonder drug," says Tom Frieden, former director, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Further, acknowledging the limited success of medications, health experts now advise integrated approach including exercise, yoga, vegetarian diet and psychological wellbeing for cancer and other ailments. After positive outcomes from multi-location studies, intake of antioxidant-rich lemon, ginger, turmeric, cucumber, ever part of Indian cuisine, is being advocated for prevention and treatment of cancers.

Lab trials at Georgia State University have shown a 10,000 times superior efficacy of ginger and turmeric vis--vis chemotherapy in cancer. Advising reduced intake of non-veg foods, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends no more than one-third of animal protein in daily diet.

Lab studies have also shown efficacy of folate-rich vegetables and fruit, particularly the deep coloured ones which contain cancer-fighting nutrients and help maintain body weight. These include beans, sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables,
green tea, cabbages and tomato and berries. Adequate intake of water and other fluids that dilute toxic concentration of cancer-causing agents in the bladder is also recommended.

What makes cancer management tough is the erratic movement of cancer cells and their rapid growth that follows no pre-determined pattern and transmits to other body parts damaging the normal cells. Second, most cases are detected in later stages due to the lack of awareness among people; many women ignore the problem and approach the surgeon only when a tumour has stretched 8-10 cm long.

To provide affordable and equitable care, public awareness on cancer along with expanding screening centres needs to be our top priority, says Dr Anand Purushotham, director at King's Health Partners Comprehensive Care Centre. The third handicap in most developing countries is the resource crunch. "India is spending less than half of what it should be doing on cancer care," regrets Dr Anand.

Once diagnosed with cancer, those around the patient tend to socially ostracise him/her unfairly at times. Ironically, however, this is a phase when one needs greater moral and other kinds support to accept the condition and pass their remaining days with minimal stress and peace.

A patient should be impressed upon, as CC Scott said, that the human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it. Small gestures like the presence of loved ones and normal conversations, delivering meals, accompanying the patient to a healthcare facility, supplying essentials, keeping them updated with events and involving them in activities of their liking can trigger positive vibes and facilitate recovery.

People diagnosed with cancer should be treated the usual way, with just a little extra love so that they do not lose their morale to fight back against the disease. As Michael Landon, the American writer, stage artist, director and producer said before he died of pancreatic cancer in 1991, "I'm going to beat this cancer or die trying."