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Cancer is a group of disease that occurs due to uncontrolled growth of cells. As they grow, they displace the normal cells and take up all the space and nutrition of the normal cells and affects their functions as well. They also migrate from their origin and occupy other parts of the body resulting in fatal outcomes.  The incidence of cancer is expected to increase rapidly over next decades. According to Global Cancer Statistics there are 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million cancer death in 2018, making cancer the second major cause of death. In India, it is estimated that around 2.25 million people are living with the disease. Every year, nearly 11 lakh patients are newly diagnosed with cancer and 7 lakh people die of the disease. One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes. For every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one women dies of it. Tobacco use accounted for 3 lakhs deaths in men and women in 2018.

The top five cancers in men and women are:

1Lip, Oral cavityBreast

Can cancer be prevented? Good news is 50% of these are PREVENTABLE!

Very often, our lifestyle and daily habits make us more prone to get cancer. Let us look at the most harmful habits that can cause cancer and how to modify the habits appropriately:

Smoking and Tobacco Use:

Smoking and cancer

Using tobacco puts us on an increased risk of cancer. Smoking has been linked to various types of cancers like lung, mouth, throat, larynx, Pancreas, bladder, Cervix and Kidney. Chewing Tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas. Exposure to second-hand smoke also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Avoiding tobacco or deciding to stop using it is an important part of cancer prevention.

Eat Healthy:

Adopt healthy eating habits – choose more fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains and less of red meat, processed meat, refined grains, and concentrated sweets. Usage of increased insecticides and pesticides for farming is also increasing the incidence of cancer. Ensure that the produce is cleaned thoroughly before consumption.

Maintain Healthy Weight and Physical Activity

The risk of various types of cancers – cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, lung, kidney etc – can be lowered by maintaining a healthy weight.

Physical activity counts, too. In addition to controlling weight, physical activity on its own might lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.

Adults participating in any amount of physical activity gain some assured health benefits. However, to achieve substantial health benefits, strive for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. A combination of moderate and vigorous activity can also be included. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity into daily routine, the more active the better it is.

Drink Alcohol Wisely:

Alcohol increases the risk of getting cancer. Experts differ in their opinion on how safe alcohol is; but most of them agree that higher the alcohol consumption, the higher the risk of cancer. Women are more sensitive to alcohol, as it increases oestrogen level which in turn increases the risk of Breast cancer. Hence, drinking in moderation is better for both men and women.

Get Vaccinated:

In order to prevent cancer, we should protect ourselves from certain viral infections.

Hepatitis B. People affected by Hepatitis B has an increased risk of developing liver cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for certain adults at high risk — such as adults who are sexually active but not in a mutually monogamous relationship, individuals having sexually transmitted infections, persons using intravenous drugs, men who have sex with other men, and healthcare/public safety workers who are prone to exposure to infected blood and body fluids.

Human papillomavirus (HPV). A sexually transmitted virus, HPV can lead to cervical and other genital cancers as well as squamous cell cancers of the head and neck. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys of ages 11 and 12. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of vaccine Gardasil 9 for males and females aged 9 to 45.

Avoid risky Behaviours:

Another effective cancer prevention tactic is to avoid risky behaviours that can lead to infections that, in turn, might increase the risk of cancer. For example:

  • Practice safe sex. Limit the number of sexual partners and use a condom when having sex. The more the number of sexual partners, the more the risk for sexually transmitted infection — such as HIV or HPV. People who have HIV or AIDS have a higher risk of cancer of the anus, liver and lung. Commonly associated with cervical cancer, HPV might also increase the risk of cancer of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and throat.
  • Don’t share needles. Sharing needles with individuals who use intravenous drugs can lead to HIV, as well as hepatitis B and hepatitis C — which can increase the risk of liver cancer.

Protect Yourself from Sun:

Avoid sun to prevent cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer — and one of the most preventable. Try these tips:

  • Avoid midday sun. Stay out of the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Stay in the shade. When you are outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can be of help, too.
  • Cover exposed areas. Wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Opt for bright or dark coloured fabrics, which reflect more ultraviolet (UV) radiation than pastels or bleached cotton.
  • Don’t skimp on sunscreen. Make sure that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF not less than 30, even on cloudy days. Apply your sunscreen in a generous manner and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These have similar damaging effects as natural sunlight.

Regular Health check and Cancer Screening:

It is a good practice to see a physician once a year and get routine checks done and any specific tests based on the risk factors like – Family history, Genetics, occupational exposure, habits etc.

Following screening programs are known to help in the early diagnosis of cancer.

  1. Mammography: Screening mammography has been shown to reduce deaths from breast cancer among women of ages 40 to 74, especially those from ages 50 to 69. Expert groups generally recommend that the screening should start at the age of 50 for women at average risk.
  2. Pap Smear: Human papillomavirus (HPV) tests and Pap tests are recommended cervical cancer screening tests that can be used alone or in combination with other screening tests. These tests prevent the disease because they allow abnormal cells to be found and treated before they become cancer. Expert groups generally recommend that the testing should begin at the age of 21 and end at age of 65 (for women who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer).
  3. Colonoscopy: Several screening tests, including colonoscopysigmoidoscopy, and stool tests (high-sensitivity faecal occult blood tests and stool DNA tests) have been shown to reduce the risk of dying from colorectal cancer. In addition to detecting colorectal cancer early, colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy can help prevent the disease from developing. That’s because these tests can find abnormal colon growths (polyps) that can be removed before they become cancer. Expert groups generally recommend that people who are at average risk for colorectal cancer have screening with one of these tests at ages 45 or 50 through 75.
  4. Lung cancer screening: Low-dose helical computed tomography, a type of CT scan, has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths among heavy smokers. Expert groups generally recommend screening of some current or former heavy smokers at ages 50 to 80

Lastly be aware of the poisons in and outside homes like Asbestosis, unsafe drinking water contaminated with pesticides and other industrial wastes. Take care while using paints and solvents. Avoid being exposed to benzene and Radon.

February 4th is marked as World Cancer Day. The three-year campaign will focus on the theme “Closing the Care Gap”. Every single one of us can contribute towards this goal by improving our knowledge about cancer, adopting healthy lifestyle and preventing or decreasing the burden of cancer in the society thereby decreasing the burden on the care team and hence helping in “Closing the Care Gap”.