Thursday, July 10, 2008

Be on the preventive

Be on the preventive
Wednesday July 9 2008 12:02 IST Navya PK EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE

CANCER, one of the deadliest diseases ever, has claimed more lives than one might imagine. According to WHO, cancer is the second largest leading cause of death worldwide.

Though advancement of medical science has brought about new technologies in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, mortality rates have been on the rise and awareness at a low.

“Awareness about cancer should be created among public as well as physicians. Doctors often wrongly diagnose the symptoms and the disease reaches a stage where it can no longer be cured,” says oncologist Dr.Jagannath Dixit. It’s estimated that 80 per cent of cancer patients in India are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. The causative factors of cancers can be obvious or indirect. For instance, it’s a little known fact that viral infections and immune system dysfunction can lead to cancer.

Different types of viruses, including Hepatitis, are responsible for 15 per cent of cancers worldwide. AIDS can lead to a type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma, probably due to weakened immune system. Twenty per cent of all AIDS patients suffer from Kaposi's sarcoma.

Though not very common, heredity can also be a cause for cancer. For instance, colon, ovary and breast cancer are found to run in families. Environmental factors such as radiation, pollution and changes in lifestyle are other causes. However, the susceptibility of the person is the most important factor and hence exposure to a carcinogen does not necessarily cause cancer.

The susceptibility of individuals can be studied only if adequate data is available, which is a major stumbling block. “Currently, registration of cancer patients is done only in government hospitals which makes it hard to get accurate data. The gene pool in India is quite big, and studies should be made to determine which section of the population is susceptible to different types of cancer. This is possible only if all cases are registered,” says Dr.Vivek Trikha who heads OncQuest, a cancer research organisation. India has not progressed much in the treatment aspect either. Government hospitals do not supply cancer drugs and do not have adequate manpower. In India, there are only 180 cancer treatment centres, which cannot take care of the 2.5 million patients in the country at present.

Those in the lower socio-economic strata suffer more as cheaper drugs are less efficient and have greater negative effects. In such a grim scenario, prevention — to the extent possible — is the only wise option.

In addition to the use of tobacco and alcohol, poor dietary habits can also lead to cancer. With the improvement in lifestyle, the consumption of oily and junk food is on the rise. Breast cancer, in particular, is caused by lack of fibre in food. So fat content should be substituted with fibrous food. Also, children should be vaccinated to prevent Hepatitis and thereby reduce the risk for cancer. One can also decrease the use of mobile phones to prevent excessive radiation. The risk of contracting cancer increases with age. Some of the preventive measures are avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and improving your dietary habits by consuming more fibre and less fat.

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