Multiplications can be fatal
Machines becoming self-conscious, multiplying beyond human control, and eventually declaring war against humanity – is a popular theme for science fiction stories and films. Human population multiplying at an unsustainable pace, leading to constraints of environmental and economic resources is a real cause of concern. Cells multiplying uncontrollably in certain regions of the human body, a condition commonly described as cancer, can be fatal. However, contrary to popular perception, such a condition does not always inevitably lead to a painful cessation of life. If detected early through regular preventive health check-ups, a cancerous growth can be cured completely.
Cancer, not a disease by itself, is a term used for a broad group of diseases involving unregulated cell growth. There are more than hundred types of cancerous growth of cells that can affect almost any part of the body including brain, lung, breast, skin, blood, colon or cervix. A survey carried out by WHO reports that in 2008, 76 lakh people died of cancer, which constituted 13% of all deaths worldwide. Globally, the 5 most common types that kill men are cancers of lung, stomach, liver, colorectal and oesophagus; while those that kill women are cancers of breast, lung, stomach, colorectal and cervix. Incidentally, in many developing countries cervical cancer has a higher incidence than any other.
Doorway to hell
A cancerous growth of cells can be triggered off by a number of causes, most of which are related to lifestyle and therefore completely preventable. The most common causes are use of tobacco and alcohol, dietary habits, obesity and physical inactivity. Other cancer causing substances, (usually known as carcinogen), apart from tobacco smoke are inhaled asbestos and high exposure to and accumulation of certain dioxins, which is usually consumed through fatty food of animal origin, namely meat, dairy products or fish. Certain viruses like Hepatitis B and human papilloma viruses have also been identified as cancer causing agents.
Different cancers are attributed to different risk factors. Cancers of mouth, throat and lung are attributed mainly to the use of alcohol and tobacco. Stomach cancer on the other hand is caused mainly because of dietary habits – consumption of alcohol, large amounts of red chillies and very hot food are the main risk factors for stomach cancer in India. Co-relation has been found between heavy consumption of red meat and incidence of colon cancer. A large number of risk factors are identified as the cause of breast cancer, which is emerging as the leading cancer in women. Late age at first pregnancy, single child, late age at menopause, high fat diet at pubertal age, obesity in the post-menopausal age and physical inactivity have all been identified as risk factors for breast cancer. Cancer of the uterine cervix, having the highest incidence among women in India, has been attributed to unhealthy reproductive behaviour.
Prevention – Nip in the bud
Although cancer is the world’s second biggest killer after cardiovascular disease , it is one of the most preventable non-communicable diseases. Up to 40% of all cancer deaths can be prevented by eliminating tobacco use, improving diets and physical activity, lowering alcohol consumption, eliminating workplace carcinogens and immunizing against Hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus. Also a large proportion of cancer can be cured if detected early. This involves a proactive role on the part of every individual to undertake regular preventive health check-ups. Statistics suggests that almost 70% of all cancer deaths occur in underdeveloped and developing countries. A greater health awareness generated through preventive healthcare can be a sustained policy for reducing national cancer burden.