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 Cancer

March 2010
Taming the Crab
Dr Arundhati Chakraborty
 
The moment doctors utter that dreaded six-letter word, they can see the faces sitting on the opposite side of the table lose their colour. The word hits them like a tonne of bricks at first. They unravel the letters one by one then, wondering if they heard it right: c-a-n-c-e-r.
Each year it affects hundreds of thousands of people and steals the happiness of their families. But what is really tragic is that the disease is preventable to a great extent and can be cured with a high success rate – provided it is detected in the early stages.

Watch What Goes In
Maintain a desirable weight. Obesity (often defined as 40 percent or more, than your recommended weight) is a risk factor for several forms of cancer like breast cancer, uterine cancer, colon cancer etc.

Cut down on total fat intake:
Avoid excess saturated fats as found in red meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, palm and coconut oil, and limit polyunsaturated (margarines and oils containing corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, sesame, and cottonseed) and monounsaturated (avocados, olives, peanuts, olive and peanut oil) fats.

Eat more high fibre foods:
Fibre comes from plant foods only, and includes breads, cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Two or more servings of raw salad are good for all systems.

Include five or more servings
of fruits and vegetables a day and at least three to four servings of green leafy vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, turnip, cauliflower etc, which are rich in antioxidants.

Changing eating habits to prevent cancer is not about giving up all the ‘fun’ foods in life. It is about eating more of the foods that protect against cancer and eating less of the foods which increase your risk.

Burn that Fat, Kill the Fag
Obese people are at higher risk to be affected by cancer than those who maintain ideal weight. This increased risk seems to affect women more often than men. So, it’s time to get up on your feet, if you are not exercising already. Start a light exercise regimen and follow it religiously.

You need not necessarily be a fitness freak or immediately enrol at a gym to burn those calories. Free hand exercises, jogging in the fresh air, swimming or

Tartrazine, metanil yellow or such other colours used in roadside food - as in ‘tomato sauce‘ with eggrolls and orange soft drink - are highly toxic for human body and increase the chance of cancer

even regular walking in a pollution-free environment is enough to keep you in the best of shape and spirit. Start believing that 20 minutes of exercise is a wise investment for the happiness of your family.

With March 8th reminding us that it is Women’s Day once again, we have to come to terms with the painted fingernails that hold a smokin’ cigarette. Research shows that women who smoke have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who have never smoked. Tobacco also increases the risk of lung cancer and oral cancer, oesophageal and stomach cancers very efficiently.

Food Additives
You cannot stop your daughter from having a quick egg roll at the roadside stall. Nor can you miss the sparkle in your son’s eyes when you buy him an orange soft drink. But think twice. The so called ‘tomato sauce’ that the vendor liberally pours on your daughter’s roll contains a generous dose of harmful chemicals that promotes cancerous changes in the body. The tartrazine, metanil yellow or such other colours are highly toxic for human body and increase the chance of cancer. Try avoiding food with colours. If you have to make your dish colourful, opt for vegetable dyes.

Occupational Hazards
Exposure to certain chemicals like aniline used in dye factories increases the risk of bladder cancer. Similarly, working in an asbestos factory leads to the exposure to asbestos fibre and increases the risk of lung cancer. So if you can’t change your job, please follow the safety measures like using mask, protective clothing, periodic breaks from work etc.

Family History
A strong family history of cancer, especially among the first degree or second degree (mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, father, uncle, brother, grandfather etc) increases the risk of some cancer by at least eight to 10 percent. The role of genes has been proved in the occurrence of breast cancer, ovarian tumour, colon cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer etc. This calls for regular selfexamination and periodic screening.

Stress Management
Although there is no research evidence proving stress to be a direct causative agent of cancer, there has been significant evidence to prove that stress decreases the body’s ability to fight diseases including cancer cells. Each day, we are exposed to hundreds of carcinogenic chemicals.

Our immune system is programmed to identify the abnormal cells and destroy them before the development of a tumour. But as the immune system gets affected, this process is hampered and the risk of abnormal cells causing tumour also rises. Thus, stress management forms an integral part of reduction of risk of cancer.

Early Detection & Routine Screening
In the western countries, cervical cancer has come down to almost nil, courtesy periodic pap smear tests from the first sexual contact onwards. This detects any pre-cancerous changes and gives time for planning intervention like cauterisations. On the contrary, lung cancer among women is on the rise as the awareness level has not been able to keep pace with the increasing smoking habit of women!

Early Detection & Routine Screening
In the western countries, cervical cancer has come down to almost nil, courtesy periodic pap smear tests from the first sexual contact onwards. This detects any pre-cancerous changes and gives time for planning intervention like cauterisations. On the contrary, lung cancer among women is on the rise as the awareness level has not been able to keep pace with the increasing smoking habit of women!

8 Signals To Watch Out For
  • Change in bowel and bladder habits
  • Unexplained cough and breathing difficulty
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A painless lump or swelling in any part of the body
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • White discharge; post coital spotting and bleeding in between menstrual periods
  • Unexplained loss of appetite and weight
  • Sudden increase of the size and shape of moles
The presence of any these symptoms does not always mean you have been hit by the ‘crab’. A screening will give you complete peace of mind.

Tests suggested
  • General examination
  • Complete blood profile
  • Chest x-ray
  • Ultrasound
For women
  • Pap smear
  • Bilateral mammography
There have been tremendous progress in all aspects of cancer therapy – medical, radiation and surgical. The holistic approach, along with more involvement of the patients and family members in the treatment, enables one to achieve the optimum benefits of the therapy. A positive result detected early may even mean a very high chance of complete cure and maintaining a quality life!
Dr. Arundhati Chakraborty - Consultant in Medical Oncology at Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals, Kolkata.

    
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