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Dr. (Prof) P.K. Mishra recalls; he was sitting in a cafeteria for a refreshing drink after a difficult operation when he received a call from a close friend. He had some weight loss and upper abdominal discomfort with loss of appetite. Symptoms were mild to start with but had been gradually progressive for the last three months. After meals he felt like vomiting. My immediate admonition was that why have you been waiting for this long! I called him urgently to my hospital and fixed an upper G I endoscopy and C T scan of abdomen. The results stated that his friend was diagnosed to have a cancer of stomach after endoscopic biopsy. Fortunately, the disease was still limited to the stomach, and the cancer was subsequently removed along with surrounding tissues and the lymph nodes. He was fortunate. I shudder to think what could have happened if he had delayed it even further.
How do cancers occur?
The cells in our body have a tendency to die and get replaced by new cells. This mechanism occurs so that there is neither excessive death nor any abnormal cell growth. Our body has genes coding for several molecules to regulate these systems. There is a possibility that any of these systems can go wrong because of external or internal factors, the prime reasons being implicated are toxic chemicals, radiation, infections and lifestyle changes.
For instance, smoking may create a toxic environment, but all smokers may not get the disease, however, some might get oral cancer, lung cancer or pancreatic cancer. Many cancers have a genetic susceptibility that gets combined with the external factors.
How can it be prevented?
A healthy lifestyle has innate benefits; it helps us when a difficult treatment is undertaken. You can go a long way in preventing cancers if you follow a healthy lifestyle. A good nutritious meal along with regular exercise minimizes the extraneous factors that aids in the causation of the disease.
If you are drinking excess alcohol, quit it as it is known to cause liver cirrhosis, which can lead to hepatic cancers. Moreover, it can also cause chronic pancreatitis that can lead to pancreatic cancers. Obesity is another implication indirectly related to causing cancers.
Is there any diagnosis?
Various cancers may be present with myriad symptoms from the headache, to abdomen pain, fever, lump, therefore it is important to diagnose cancer at a curable stage. Diagnosing cancer involves meticulous examinations and tests. The symptoms can be mild or subtle and may persist for a long time. Sometimes, even medical persons may ignore or misunderstand the symptoms.
Dr. (Prof) P.K. Mishra recalls that one of his senior colleagues who has weight loss, mild abdominal pain and off and on mild fever waited for two months before consulting. When an ultrasound was done, it showed an advanced gall bladder cancer. These symptoms can sometimes be because of other illnesses too and if ignored can cause a serious problem.
Doctors trained are in a better position to judge the difference. Some symptoms like:
Lack of appetite can be serious, and hence a doctor should be consulted before any investigations are done.
Jaundice, fever or lump needs to be investigated thoroughly. Simple tests can reveal whether jaundice is due to some infection or obstruction of bile due to cancer growth.
What are the treatment options?
The 3 main modalities of cancer treatment are:
They are used for treating cancers in different permutations and combinations. Surgery removes the entire cancer from the local site, while radiation does it by focused beams or implanted beads. It has been seen that several times the cancer has spread through blood or lymphatics, in these cases chemotherapy is done.
Cancers are known to have varying susceptibilities to the treatment regimens so it is best to start with chemotherapy or radiation. Understand from your doctor about the type of cancer you are suffering from alongside its aggressiveness and stage.
At Max cancer center, one of the best cancer hospitals in Delhi, India we have CT simulator, linear accelerator with IMRT and other advanced techniques for radiation therapy. Now advanced surgical resections, hyperthermic chemotherapy with cytoreduction (HIPEC) can all be undertaken with improved ICU care. However, complications and benefits of all these procedures need to be closely understood in each individual case.
Medical science has been able to prolong survival and achieve cures in many cancers. Outlook though grim, is no more dismal. It should be treated in well-equipped multispecialty centers. In early stages a cure is possible. Even in later stages a survival benefit and a better quality of life can be offered. We need to fight cancer together with hope, persistence and all the diligence required.