In honour of World Cancer Month, Dr Amit Jotwani, Chief Oncologist at Onco, shares his thoughts on how we can prevent cancer as a responsible society.
Humans are full of hope and happiness when they experience good health, prosperity and security. During such times we tend to forget the fact that how fragile we are and we continue to ignore our health till it disturbs our daily lives. The most real danger we face today is increasing ignorance and carelessness around our health needs. More and more people are getting diagnosed with life-threatening conditions like kidney failure, heart conditions and most importantly cancer and we still continue to ignore the alarming signs as a society.
It has been estimated that one in every ten Indians will suffer from cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer is now a critical health and human issue that needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. There are 3 primary ways to deal with cancer. The first is to reduce the risk of occurrence of cancer, the second is to catch it early and the third is to treat it correctly and timely.
Three reasons attributed to the rising incidence of cancer are changing lifestyles, food habits and incremental exposure to carcinogens. As we see more and more modernisation in society, more and more people are living a sedentary lifestyle with minimal physical activity. It is now said that sitting all day is another form of smoking as it leads to similar damage as caused by smoking. Lack of physical activity leads to dangerous changes in the body’s physical composition that creates a favorable environment for the development of cancer inside the body. Common cancers associated with a sedentary lifestyle are breast and colon cancers, and regular exercise has been recommended to reduce the risk of these cancers.
Another factor that enhances the risk of developing cancer is changing food habits. As we become more and more busy with our work lives we tend to ignore the importance of consuming food in fresh and healthy forms. We are consuming more dangerous levels of preserved foods and the variety of foods is vanishing from our plates. A variety of fresh foods helps us provide the necessary nutrients and minerals that provide the necessary support to our immune system to catch and fight disease processes the moment they start. Preserved foods tend to suppress the immune system’s ability to fight abnormal cells in the early stage and this promotes those cells to grow further and cause cancer.
The third and very important cause of cancer is rising exposure to cancer-causing chemicals called carcinogens. Research indicates rising pollution levels from automobile exhausts, construction activities and contracting green space is a major contributor to the enhanced incidence of cancer, especially lung cancer and cancers of abdominal organs. Active consumption of tobacco in all forms (chewing, smoking) directly causes cancers of the head and neck and food pipe. Alcohol consumption can directly cause a variety of cancers including liver and stomach cancers.
Additionally, some cancers may be caused by viral infections like Human Papilloma Virus which causes cervical and genital cancers, Hepatitis B and C viruses may cause liver cancer and the HIV virus may cause a variety of other cancers.
How can we ACT?
- Switch to a healthy lifestyle: Having an optimal weight and leading an active lifestyle can cut down your risk of developing cancer. Simple changes in your lifestyle can be a start towards cancer prevention. Avoiding processed foods, red meat, sugary drinks, etc., can be one such change. Consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables can also greatly contribute towards this. This reduces your chances of getting cancer by up to 70%.
- Spread awareness in the society for collective action towards environment and lifestyle in the community. A health-conscious society helps everyone lead a healthy life.
- Get yourself checked: No one is invincible, when it comes to cancer. An annual health check can highlight any abnormalities that need investigation. Set reminders to check your breasts regularly for any lumps. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in India and it is easily treatable if detected in the early stages. Speak to your doctor about your family history of cancer to find out which screening tests you should be going for. Cancers of the breast and cervix can be identified in the very early stages through simple screening tests.
- Quit Tobacco: Tobacco is the most preventable cause of cancer. After cancers of the breast and cervix, the most common type of cancer in India is cancer of the lip and oral cavity. Tobacco is one of the most important causes of this type of cancer. Apart from different types of cancer, including lung, oral and cervical cancer, tobacco also causes many other illnesses. If you have trouble quitting your tobacco habit, speak to a de-addiction counsellor who will help you succeed.
The long road ahead
We need to bring in a culture of healthy living, and environment preservation at all costs and revert to healthy food habits where we need to drastically reduce consumption of preserved foods and improve intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Secondly, much work remains to be done to make cancer care truly accessible and egalitarian. More effort is needed towards screening and early detection of cancers. We also need to ensure accurate and timely care is provided to every cancer patient. Through a multipronged approach we can effectively reduce the burden of cancer in the society.