Cancer is a term that is familiar to us all. A few decades ago it may not have been as intimidating as it is today. It is also a sign in the zodiac but at present it is a disease, a scourge that can send chills to the spine of anyone. Cancer has affected each and every one of us either directly or indirectly in some form.
According to the factsheet of the World Health Organization (WHO) cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide with around 7.6 million deaths around the world in 2008. And the number of deaths is predicted to increase to 13.2 million by the year 2030 according to the same source. The numbers almost doubling in a matter of 22 years is an alarming figure.
So, what actually is cancer? Simply put, the cells in our body grow uncontrollably without stopping, thus forming masses or tumors which may invade the adjacent tissues. The uncontrollable cell growth occurs when there is mutation and damage of the DNA resulting in damage to the gene controlling cell division. Normally, the cells in our body are programmed to grow, divide and die in a normal way but in case of cancer cells this programmed cell death is lost and thus these abnormal cells grow and cause the various problems by invading adjacent organs and causing damage. If these cells access the blood stream or lymph vessels and transport to other organs and start growing there it is called metastasis. This is a serious concern as the cancer will be difficult to treat now and the outcome even after treatment becomes poor.
Cancer is not communicable; i.e can’t transmit from one person to the other. Almost all the cancers are genetic; some are even inherited in the family genes. The agents that play a role in developing cancer are called carcinogens. Tobacco, asbestos, arsenic, various forms of radiation, etc are carcinogens. They play a role in mutations of the genes and thus in causing cancer. There are also microorganisms like Human Papilloma Virus (cervical and oral cancer), Hepatitis B virus (Liver cancer), Helicobacter pylori (gastric carcinoma), etc that have been known as a risk factor for these cancers.
There are more than 100 forms of cancers and t
he signs/symptoms vary for each type. We will deal with that in the posts on specific forms of cancer. In the developing world, the majority of cancer cases are detected in the late stage. Late stage detection forecasts a bad outcome for the patient even after treatment. Therefore, Early detection of the case forms a major factor for the good outcome of treatment for any patient. So, if you see any signs/symptoms such as unusual mass, sore that does not heal, unusual discharge or bleeding, thickness/ lumps on the breast, obvious changes in moles and etc then going to a medical practitioner for evaluation would be a good idea.
There are various modalities of treatments of cancer like surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and etc which have proven effective against many forms of cancers. These are used either singly or combined to treat as indicated for the specific case. Also, huge amount of research is being carried out to bring forth new modalities of treatment and more effective medicines for the disease.
So, it’s clear that we or even someone close to us are prone to cancer. Does it mean that we wait for it to happen of do something about it? Many people especially in the developing world think that cancer has no answer. But, the truth is that it can be prevented by adopting certain basic measures.
In today’s fast growing world, a major factor in determining the unfortunate is neglecting the simple laws of nature and also taunting them by indulging in adverse activities like using tobacco products, alcohol abuse, consuming unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle lacking physical activities. If the aforementioned factors can be controlled, i.e. by refraining from tobacco and alcohol, consuming healthy diet and doing regular exercises, almost 1/3rd of all cancer cases can be prevented. Therefore, Prevention is the key to reduce the risk of this disease for oneself and our family.