November 7 is observed as National Cancer Awareness Day in India each year. The day is marked out to teach people to combat the disease. With nearly 2.9 million cases of cancer in the country and about 1.1 million new cases reported annually, we have to learn to deal with this feared disease. The sad part is that two-thirds of cancer cases get diagnosed very late when the disease is at an advanced stage. This reduces the patient’s chances of survival. It is for this reason that Cancer Awareness Day becomes important to instill awareness for early detection.
The medical fraternity and allied agencies working for cancer awareness observe the day conscientiously. Cancer refers to the group of diseases that affect the living cells in the human body, and may affect anybody at any age. Causes of the malady may be multi-factorial but the disease may advance with fatality. Tobacco is identified as the single most important risk factor for cancer.
The good news is that it’s well established by now that nearly one-third of cancers are preventable and one-third have the potential to be cured provided they are diagnosed early on. To control the cancer one needs to effectively make use of all knowledge that has been accumulated through successful research over the past couple of decades.
The quality of life of cancer patients who are incurable is maintained by provision of palliative care. However, in India with its financial and urban-rural divides and constraints, along with shortage of manpower, all this creates a dearth of palliative facilities that need to be made widely available. Save for cancer hospitals at select urban centers, a large segment of the population remains out of the loop of cancer diagnostics, facilities and treatment.
Add to this the fact that lack of awareness has cancer patients arriving at very advanced stages thereby increasing rates of morbidity and mortality. Thus, in comparison to western countries we lag behind in numbers of treated patients. It is largely due to late diagnosis and lack of treatment that cancer remains a dreaded disease. Even pediatric cancers that are often curable remain sadly defeated since we lack access to quality care and support systems.
Cancer Awareness Day therefore becomes a day to spread the message out loud and clear. Early stage cancer, if detected sooner than later, has remarkable chances of being treated. People and institutions should be taking on the cudgels for drawing attention to this fact and making known developments in the field of cancer treatment. Initially cancer may show no signs and go undetected, but one needs to be watchful for signals that should not be ignored.
Early detection and treatment can alter the course of the disease and improve chances of survival, to even returning back to good health. This is especially important for people who are addicted to tobacco – a known cancer agent. It is said that nearly 3000 people die every single day due to tobacco related cancer deaths. Tobacco addicts are more prone to dying of cancer than non-tobacco users.
Besides tobacco addicts there are other high risk-groups and these include post-menopausal women, women on birth-control pills/hormone therapy, people working in toxic environments, people exposed to second-hand smoke, heavy drinkers and people suffering from disturbed sleep patterns. Cancer tumors grow to press on nerves, penetrate blood vessels and interfere with functioning of organs. They may cause bleeding, be painful and impair bodily functions.
Here are signs of cancer that need to be medically checked out:
- Lesions that do not heal despite medication.
- Change in look and feel of existing wart, mole, or sore.
- Bleeding or watery discharge that is abnormal.
- Any lump or thickening in any part of the body.
- Acidity, indigestion, difficulty in swallowing.
- Chronic fatigue, nausea, or vomiting.
- Sudden changes in bowel or bladder habits.
- Nagging cough or hoarseness in the throat.
- Persistent headaches.
- Loss of appetite, sudden weight loss.
- Pain in bones or any other area.
- Constant or intermittent low fever.
- Poor immune system, repeated infections.
Early signs may occur to anybody, even those having healthy lifestyles. One has to be watchful, especially high risk groups. Early diagnosis and treatment is a sure way to fight off cancer.