Cancer is aall about survival of the fittest

Cancer is aall about survival of the fittest

Contrary to popular perception, cancer is curable, and there is much you can do to reduce your cancer risk, Dr Mukunda N K tells Jisha Krishnan


February 4 is World Cancer Day, an international day marked to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. It can affect almost any part of the body.

Studies show that the number of cancer cases is growing rapidly, with 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths reported in 2018 alone.

What is causing this growing incidence?

Is it simply the result of better diagnostics? Dr Mukunda N K, consultant surgical oncologist and head of oncology, Sagar Hospitals, Bengaluru, sheds light on the misconceptions, challenges, risk factors, and more.

Has the incidence of cancer increased radically? 

Yes it has, both globally and in India. Globally, it’s estimated that 45 million people across the world suffer from various forms of cancer. The number of cancer cases has more than doubled since 2000. As per WHO data, cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in India.

Which are the most common cancers in India?

Among men, we are seeing an increasing incidence of head and neck cancer, lung cancer, gastro-intestinal cancer and prostate cancer. Among women, the maximum number of cases include breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

What is the most common misconception about cancer?

The most common misconception is that cancer is not curable and that allopathic medicine does not work. So, many patients go around scouting for alternative medicine and end up losing money and precious time. Given that cancer spreads rather rapidly, in a matter of few months, time is of essence. It’s important that patients accept the diagnosis and start timely treatment. Many cancers can be cured — by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy — if they are detected in time.

Do all cancers show early signs and symptoms?

While some cancers — breast, uterus, thyroid and oral — are likely to show early symptoms, there are also conditions that are more challenging to detect. For instance, cancers that lie deep inside the abdomen or chest cavity may not manifest clinically until they reach an advanced stage.

Are most cancers preventable?

Yes, about 55 to 60% of cancers in India are preventable. Most cases of head and neck cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer and cervical cancer can be easily prevented.

For which age group is cancer screening recommended?

Typically, after the age of 50 years, screening is recommended for breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.

Are there vaccines that have proved effective?

There are a few cancer vaccines that have been proved to be effective. For instance, Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent liver cancer. Similarly, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines help prevent cervical cancer.

What are the leading causes of cancer?

While there’s no single cause, there are multiple factors that increase one’s risk. The biggest culprits are tobacco (in smoke and smokeless form), alcohol, unhealthy diet and obesity. Research shows that up to 45 to 55% of cancer incidence is related to smoking and alcohol consumption.

What role does diet play in cancer prevention?

Red meat consumption has been shown to cause colon cancer. High intake of smoked food has been linked to cancer of the stomach and esoephagus. Through various studies, it has been proved that the food habits of our ancestors — vegetarian and fresh live foods — are the best for health, and also in preventing cancer.

Is lack of adequate physical activity a major issue?

Yes, it is to a certain extent. Physical inactivity and obesity go hand in hand. Especially in the case of breast cancer, endometrial cancer and renal cancer, obese people are known to be at increased risk.

Are more people surviving cancer today? 

Yes, I would say it’s mostly due to early diagnosis and improved diagnostic and treatment modalities. There have also been encouraging breakthroughs in cancer research.

For instance, not too long ago, patients diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) didn’t survive beyond a few months; today, they can live up to 10 years.