HYDERABAD: The dreaded 'C' is at it again. The deadliest disease known to man has trained its sights on a whole new generation of unsuspecting individuals worldwide – the young adults. Hyderabad is no different.
The drastic change in lifestyle of those in the young adult category of 18-39 year olds, is causing an increasing number of them to hit the cancer clinics for treatment beyond just the common breast and lung type. Proof for the same comes in the form of reports from hospitals across the city – which have admitted to an increase in number of oral, gastro-intestinal and cervical cancers being diagnosed in the above mentioned age group. The blame for the sudden rise though has been attributed to not just an unhealthy lifestyle, but also increasing influx of people from different parts of the country, smoking of hookah pipes, and also the new-age infertility treatments.
Jump in cancer cases
A recent medical conference held in New Delhi put the number of cancer cases in India at over 10 lakhs, with 1.5 lakh cases being reported in the young adult category alone. In Hyderabad the ratio is slightly higher with city-based oncologists pegging the young adult cancer cases at 30 per cent of the total cancer cases diagnosed.
“The lack of a cancer registry prevents us from analysing the statistics for the entire state. But at Apollo Hospitals, we have been witnessing an increase in young adult cancer cases by 30-35 per cent. Five years ago the total number of young adult cases reported here were just 5-10 per cent of the total cancer cases. In 2011, over 5000 cases were treated here and more than 30 per cent of the patients were young adults”, said Dr Vijay Anand Reddy, Director, Apollo Cancer Hospitals.
Things are no different at the government run MNJ Hospital which treats 100-150 cancer cases daily. Dr Sudha Sinha of MNJ Hospital mentions that close to 40 per cent of the cases treated there include youngsters. “Since ours is a government hospital, people come here only after their disease has reached an advanced state and when they cannot afford the treatment at private hospitals. There is definitely a lack of awareness even among the young adults on what they are dealing with,” she said.
When it comes to the most common type of cancers afflicting this age group, oncologists are united on their findings as well. “Breast cancer in women and oral and stomach cancer in men are the most common. In fact almost half of the young adult cancers reported fall under the oral category which includes tongue, mouth, neck etc,” added Dr Sudha, informing, “On the other hand, new types of cancers such as cervical, gastro-intestinal and ovarian cancers are increasingly being reported among younger men and women.”
Factors affecting numbers
So what is leading to the emergence of new types of cancer among youngsters? Dr Kiranam Chatti, senior research scientist at the Institute of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad, opined that as per his discussions with numerous oncologists from hospitals which includes the MNJ Hospital and Indo-American Cancer Research Institute, non-tobacco related causes were today surprisingly leading to a number of oral cancer cases.
“The patients supposedly smoked hookah pipes regularly. The mushrooming of hookah bars across the city and the misplaced knowledge that smoking hookah is safer than tobacco are the reasons for the same. No research work has as yet proved hookah to be safe.”
He also pointed out that a number of young married women were now getting treatment for infertility related problems which were not devoid of its side effects. “During the course of such treatments, they are provided hormonal supplements which may induce ovarian and breast cancers. Such cases have been diagnosed in city hospitals.”
Then. there is the problem of unhygienic street food and the issue of re-use of cooking oil which can lead to colon and other gastro-intestinal cancers. “Till a few years ago, such cancers were reported among people above 40 years old. But now hospitals have reported that young adults are also being affected by numerous stomach and gastro- intestinal cancers”, he explained.
Blocking the cancer
Dr Reddy admitted that the lack of sufficient exercise among small girls was a prime reason for the emergence of early cancers. “Parents should be responsible in helping them maintain a healthy lifestyle. The intake of non-veg, spicy, fatty and salty foods should be reduced and substituted with more veggies and fruits.” He further said that young men who indulged in smoking while drinking alcohol faced a greater risk of being affected by cancer.
Additionally, Dr Chatti pointed out that the influx of people from different parts of the country into the city posed a greater risk of spreading new types of viruses. As also is the lack of a proper cancer registry in the state which he felt was hampering research works.
“Most oncologists and researchers are being forced to refer to the registries available in neighbouring Bengaluru and Chennai to draw parallels. Being south Indian states, it is believed they can help study cancers. But such studies are never accurate and rarely help improve precautionary measures.”