Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi for BeyondHeadlines
Mumbai: Today is Marie Curie’s birth anniversary and National Cancer Awareness Day. On this occasion, I am putting some thoughts together. As cancer surgeons, my colleagues and I are direct witnesses to the fact that India is struck by a disaster of tsunami or earthquake proportions every single day. Over 3000 persons – mostly middle ages — die every day due to a single identifiable cause that is entirely avoidable, namely tobacco. And it is strange that nobody in the government seemed to even care until mid-2012 (when 15 states with about 60 per cent of India’s population banned gutka under the Food Safety Regulations 2011).
Tobacco users are hugely prone to getting cancer, respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke etc. Ten lakh smokers and tobacco-chewers die from these illnesses every year in India – 50 times more than non-tobacco users. About one-third of India’s population is hooked to tobacco. Of India’s 42 crore tobacco addicts, only about 28 crore are adults. About 14 crore persons are aged below 18 years, and they typically pick up the tobacco habit in the 6th or 7th standard.
Besides tobacco addicts, 6 other high risk-groups are:
- Women post menopause
- Women on birth-control pills or hormone therapy
- People working in smoky, stress-filled or otherwise toxic environments e.g. welders, traffic policemen, metal workshop & furnace personnel
- Exposed to second-hand smoke — family members & colleagues of smokers
- Heavy drinkers
- Those who suffer from disturbed sleep patterns & chronic fatigue e.g. those who frequently work night-shifts, students who habitually work overnight etc.
At first, cancer may have no signs and signals, and therefore is usually undetected. But there are subtle signals that it is in your interest to notice and act upon. Early detection and treatment dramatically improves your chances of survival and return to good health.
As a malignant cancerous tumor grows, it may press on nerves, penetrates blood vessels and interfere with the functioning of one or more organs. Thus it causes bleeding, pain and impairment in body functions that cannot be explained by normal causes.
Watch out for these 13 Early Signs of Cancer:
1) Sore or lesion that does not heal, even after medication
2) Change in the look and feel of an existing wart, mole, or sore in the mouth
3) Bleeding or watery discharge from any part of the body that is abnormal
4) Thickening or lump in parts like the testicles, breast, armpits or elsewhere
5) Acidity, indigestion, difficulty in swallowing
6) Chronic fatigue, nausea, or vomiting
7) Sudden changes in bowel or bladder habits
8) Nagging cough or hoarseness in the throat
9) Persistent headaches
10) Loss of appetite, sudden weight loss for no reason
11) Pain in bones or any other areas of the body
12) Low-grade fever, either constant or intermittent
13) Poor immune system, repeated infections
If you develop any such symptoms that are not related to another medical cause, and these persist for more than two weeks, schedule a medical examination. Remember, early diagnosis and treatment is your best bet against cancer.
These early warning signs apply to all human beings – even those who have a very healthy lifestyle. However, you should definitely be more watchful if you are in one or more of the above-mentioned high-risk groups.
(Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi is Consultant Surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital.)