It’s a piece of information that has healing potential! “Seventy percent of cancers are preventable. Simple lifestyle modifications can shield you against it,” says Dr Shyam Aggarwal, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. Eating right, exercising, reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep, and maintaining hygiene can reduce the chances of its occurrence multi-fold. “By just quitting tobacco and alcohol consumption alone, 30 to 40 percent of the lung, oral, pelvic, breast, head and neck, and stomach cancers can be prevented,” says Aggarwal.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. It accounts for almost 30 percent of the entire burden of the disease reported among the gender, which is rising due to poor lifestyle choices. “Add to that late marriage among women, delaying or avoiding pregnancy, reduced breastfeeding, obesity, eating fatty food, lack of exercise and too much alcohol that have led to a tsunami of breast cancer cases in the last few years,” says Dr Ramesh Sarin, Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
A diet that leaves out fruits and vegetables can increase your risk of cancer. “Processed food, fried and fatty food, too much red meat or salty snacks can be a potential danger. You need to include anti-inflammatory foods,” says Sarin. He advises all women above 30 to be careful of a sedentary lifestyle. They must examine themselves regularly and watch out for lump(s), discharge or discolouration of breasts. “The relationship between physical inactivity and cancer cell growth has been the subject of many studies. Just walking around the block is not enough.
You need to get your heart racing,” he says. Chronic stress can lead to a hormonal imbalance. It increases the risk of cancer. “Many young women are unaware that by just improving hygiene conditions and getting the HPV vaccine can prevent them from uterine cervix cancer,” he emphasises. Something as small as flossing your teeth every day can keep you away from cancer because gum disease has been associated with it. Cancers related to infections are also preventable and these include primary liver cancer and HIV-related cancers. Hepatitis B and C vaccines are currently available to prevent the occurrence of these infections. Prevention of HIV AIDS is recommended by safe sex and by not sharing needles.
“Cancers in the breast, cervix, colon and lung, if diagnosed in the early stages, can be cured. There are screening tests available, such as a mammogram for breast cancer, PAP smear for cervical cancer, stool test for colon cancer and low dose CT scans for lung cancer. These should be done regularly,” says Dr Vijay Agarwal, Lead Consultant, Medical Oncology, Aster RV Hospital, Bangaluru.
While in the West, there is a big focus on early detection and prevention, which is why more than 50 percent of cancer patients can be cured in developed nations. “Unfortunately in India, due to the lack of awareness, almost 60-70 percent of people who come to us have already reached stage 3 or 4,” says Dr M Sriharibabu, Professor and Head, Department of Medicine, GSL Medical College, Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. But the good part is that this pitiful situation can be avoided.
“Covid has played a huge role in the stage migration of cancers because patients did not come to hospitals for checkups. There is no ‘lockdown’ on cancer as it continues to progress and spread. This has been a worldwide phenomenon and has increased the burden of stage three and four cancers, adding to the exchequer expenses. Covid also delayed surgeries for operable cancers because of lack of oxygen in hospitals.”
Dr Shyam Aggarwal, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi