Cancer- a word that will send chills down ones spine, especially if it has been mentioned in reference to a loved one. It is the 2nd most common cause of death in the world and the most common cause of premature death (death in the age group of 30 – 69 years). Its social and economic repercussions are way beyond the individual suffering and affect the entire family and community. WHO has predicted that the total number of cancer cases will double by 2040 and will become the leading most cause of death world over.
What is cancer? It is an unregulated and unending growth of cell or group of cells which disregards normal checks and balances laid down by nature. This result in lumps or tumor formation in the body which has potential to spread to all over (metastasis) eventually leading to death. So it’s an irony – a quest of immortality of a cell resulting in demise of a billion.
Causes of cancer with anecdotal examples- Infection (hepatitis B for HCC, HPV for cervical cancer), addiction (smoking, alcohol), obesity, pollution (air pollution and lung cancer), genetic and pure misfortune (cellular accident) is how causes of cancer can be summed up.
Prevention of cancer- 1/3rd to ½ of all cancer can be prevented by reducing exposure of known risk factors.
Vaccination for Hepatitis B and HPV for prevention of liver cancer (HCC) and cancer for cervix are two of the best know examples of primary prevention of cancer. Smoking attributes to more than 90% cancer of oral cavity and 80% lung cancer and is implicated in many other cancers like esophageal, stomach, and pancreas and colon cancer. Avoiding tobacco in all its form and making once home and work place smoke free is possibly the best cancer prevention strategy. Similarly alcohol is associated with 10 different types of cancers. As per W.H.O avoiding alcohol is one of the important actionable points against cancer. Obesity has emerged as a major risk factor for cancer. It already accounts for 6% cases of breast, 8% of colon and more than 30% cases of uterine cancers. It is both the unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity which is responsible for obesity related malignancies. Correcting once lifestyle and eating habits can be preventive against cancer. Pollution especially air is an important health hazard, it now accounts for almost 20% cases for lung cancer.
If one has to draw a personal action plan against cancer it will be like follows
1 Healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes and avoiding processed packed foods and simple sugars
2 Avoid alcohol and tobacco products
3 Regular physical activities
4 Vaccinations against Hepatitis B (at birth) and HPV(for young girls)
5 Do your bit to reduce air pollution ( Plant trees, decrease consumption of fossil fuel, use your electoral power to force government in taking policy decisions ensuring clean air to its citizens)