Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues. Do you know, 10 million people around the world die each year from cancer? According to a recent report by the National Cancer Registry Programme of India, the projected number of patients with cancer in India is 13 lakh 92 thousand and 179 for the year 2020, and the common 5 leading sites are breast, lung, mouth,
cervix uteri, and tongue. At Medicircle we are conducting an exclusive interview series on the occasion of World Cancer Day showcasing eminent Oncologists over a discussion to bring awareness about cancer, its treatments, and myths related to it.
Dr Sameer Kaul is a Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology and Robotics at Apollo Cancer Institute, New Delhi, where he heads the surgical oncology unit one and has vast experience of working at various reputed hospitals like Tata Memorial Hospital, Nanavati Hospital, Jaslok Hospital, KEM Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and the Royal Marsden Cancer hospital, London. He is the founder president of a successful non-governmental organization called ‘bcpbf- The Cancer Foundation’ and his interest lies in popularising innovative techniques in oncology.
Right time, people and place can help in survival
Dr. Kaul observes, ‘‘When we talk about survival chances, it actually depends on trying to treat cancer early, which means at the earliest stage. Also, it's always best to prevent cancer, which means not to let it happen at all. But if you cannot do that, the next best thing is to try and get it diagnosed early. If the diagnosis is done at the right time, treatment is by the right people and at the right place, chances of survival are better.”
Lifestyle is the cause
Dr. Kaul emphasizes that there are many non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, COPD, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer which are caused due to the newer lifestyles that have come into the world. Lifestyles are becoming more permissive and causative agents of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.
Cure is possible if detected early
Dr. Kaul points out, “Cure of cancer in oncology is measured in terms of survival years, ie. one-year survival, two-year survival, five-year survival, ten-year survival, etc. In some cases, people live as long as 50 years. Hence, cure is possible, provided we diagnose it early and of course prevention is the best practice.”
Listen to your Body
Dr Kaul stresses, “the reason why we overlook the symptoms of cancer is that we have stopped talking to our bodies. So if our body is trying to tell us something, by producing subtle symptoms, we choose to ignore them. Our body always signals when something is wrong, but we don't take cognizance of it. So you have to be sensitive to your own body, and keep your own health at the top of your priorities. Don't ignore them. Most of the time there is a symptom. It may be subtle, but there will be symptoms for sure.”
Signals of the body
Dr Kaul sheds light of the various symptoms of different types of cancer :
- “If there is cancer in the area where there is a nerve nearby, the patient experiences pain when the nerve is pressed.
- If cancer is next to a blood vessel, there is bleeding.
- If there is big lump with pain and discomfort, it can be cancer
- If cancer is in the gastrointestinal tract, the patient might experience difficulty in swallowing food, passing stools, which means the bowel is getting obstructed by a lesion
- If cancer is in the respiratory tract, you get a tumor which is impinging on the lumen of the respiratory tract, the bronchial pathways. In that case, the patient might experience breathing difficulty
- Persistent cough and alteration of voice can be a symptom.
- Loss of appetite and loss of weight are some symptoms that occur at a later stage.
- In some cancers, the symptoms may be as subtle as just mild dyspepsia, which means heartburn and acidity which we don't take very seriously. People try to self medicate for relief from such symptoms.
- In some cases, people get treated for tuberculosis for five to six months till they realize that it was actually cancer. This happens only if you rush into treatments without investigating properly.”
- There are many cancers like colon cancer and ovarian cancer where there might not be a symptom or there might be a very mild symptom.”
Hard facts need attention
Dr. Kaul lists some important facts that need to be taken care with urgency:
- “Cancer is the largest cause of bankruptcy in the entire world. It is difficult even in rich countries like America, Canada, North America to financially combat cancer. There is not enough money with people, the government, and other insurance organizations to spend on the number of cases that are coming up throughout the world. A solution needs to be worked out.
- There are not enough screening programmes to prevent cancer and detect it early. Good screening programmes would not only yield good results by bringing down the mortality rate, but also resources and energy would be saved.
- Cancer hospitals are not decentralized and accessible to all sections of the population. Also, geographically and financially, there is disparity in treatment which should be taken care of.
- There is a need for more research in our country to bring down the cost of drugs,” says Dr. Kaul.
(Edited by Faryal Siddiqui)