Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018 alone. As predicted by the World health organization (WHO), this number is projected to continue to rise in the coming years, making it more important than ever that we take action now to prevent and treat this disease. Cancer is a global health concern that affects individuals and families from all walks of life. It is particularly important in developing countries like India where around 19- 20 lakh cases were reported in the year 2022.
The 4th of February is celebrated every year as “World Cancer Day”. It symbolizes our intent to come together to raise awareness about the disease and to advocate for greater access to prevention, early detection, and treatment. This movement is led by the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control) based out of Paris, France. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Close the gap“to reduce the inequities that exist in accessing cancer treatment worldwide.
Cancer is caused by the abnormal growth and division of cells in the body. There are many different types of cancer, each with its own set of risk factors and causes, symptoms and treatment options. Some of the most common types of cancer include breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and skin cancer. In our country, head and neck, especially oral cancer, liver and cervical cancers, are also important in terms of prevelance in the community.
Prevention is key to reducing the burden of cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking cigarettes, cigars and beedis or chewing other tobacco products such as Paan.
Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving the chances of survival and recovery. Screening tests can help detect some cancers in the early stages when it is most treatable and curable. Examples include regular self-examination of the breast and mammograms for breast cancer, age-appropriate colonoscopy for colon cancer and age-appropriate testing for PSA and digital rectal exam for prostate cancers, regular pelvic exam and PAP smears for cervical cancer as well as periodic oral examination for oral cancers especially in those who chew tobacco.
Broad treatment modalities for cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, one or more of these modalities may be chosen by the team of doctors involved. In recent years, there have been many advances in cancer research, leading to new and more effective treatments.
These include the ability to target weaknesses which may be genetic mutations in cancer cells. Examples include targetting the EGFR mutations in Lung Cancer, the Her-2 receptor in certain types of breast cancer. We have also learnt to stimulate our own body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. Currently, we have drugs that work through the PD1- PDL1 and CTLA 4 pathway as well as CAR-T cells. Many more are of these wonder drugs are expected in the coming years.
Side effects of cancer treatments are often debilitating. Managing these side effects of treatment effectively improves the quality of life of our cancer patients. These include management of nausea, vomitting, diarrhea, constipation, lowering of blood counts, hair loss, fatigue and neuropathy.
All these advances have allowed us to cure many more people and allow people to live longer and more productive lives than ever before and to spend that precious and quality time with their families.
Despite the progress made in cancer research and treatment, many individuals still lack access to the care they need. This is particularly true in our country as well as other low- and middle-income countries, where cancer is often not diagnosed until it is in its advanced stages.
In addition, we must also focus on the reduction of Cancer risk factors through efficient policies and legislation such as, tobacco control, reducing environmental pollution, promoting healthy diets, physical activity and vaccination. This will help in reducing the cancer burden in the long term.
In conclusion, Cancer is a global health concern that affects individuals and families from all walks of life. Advances in cancer treatments have allowed us to cure many more people and allowed people to live longer and more productive lives than ever before.
On World Cancer Day, we must come together to raise awareness about the disease and to advocate for greater access to prevention, early detection, and treatment. We must also focus on the reduction of Cancer risk factors to tackle this issue in the long term. Together, we can make a difference in the fight against cancer.