Cancer is a global burden and as per latest GLOBOCAN 2020 report, over 19.3 million new cases and 10 million deaths occurred in 2020. Female breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer (11.7%), followed by lung cancer (11.4%), colorectal cancer (10 %), and prostate cancer (7.3%). When we talk about mortality, though, lung cancer still remains at the top. As per WHO statistics 2019, in 112 out of 183 countries, people die of cancer before attaining the age of 70 years.
Despite the world having made advances in science and technology, chemotherapy still remains the best option to treat cancer. Conventional chemotherapy has greatly improved the decline in mortality rate of several dreadful cancers but its major problem is killing of cancerous and non- cancerous cells causing serious off-target effects, like hair loss, bone marrow depression, and other toxic effects.
M.T. Rasool and colleagues reported Kashmir to be an endemic cancer zone with its peculiar cancer profile. Back in 2005, the Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar, took a great initiate by starting a hospital-based cancer registry with the aim to evaluate distribution and patterns of cancer cases which the hospital admits throughout the year. Cancer cases in Kashmir gradually increase with each passing year, viz 230 in 2015, 239 in 216, 391 in 2017 and 511 in 2018, with stomach cancer being the most diagnosed cancer in the valley, reports a study. Kashmir being a vulnerable state needs to develop awareness about this growing concern. If we need to control this burden, we need participation from all the sectors of society, like government, universities, hospitals, schools to create awareness about the disease by education, awareness camps & programmes, organising special conferences about cancers, etc.
What should be the objectives of cancer awareness programmes?
1. Educate people about the risk factors associated with the cancer as more than 30% of the cases could be prevented by avoiding or modifying the risk factors and lifestyles, respectively.
2. Help to remove fear and stigma about cancer.
3. Help people in knowing the early signs and symptoms, so that early detection and treatment could be started.
4. Educate people about the importance of routine check-ups and screenings.
5. Encourage female population to go for mammograms, self and clinical breast examination.
Common myths and misconceptions about cancer:
1. Having a cancer is a “death sentence”
The answer is “Absolute No”. It depends on many factors, like how slow or fast growing the cancer is, metastatic state of the cancer, treatment available, etc.
2. Cancer is hereditary
Not necessarily. Only 5%-10% cancers are caused by harmful mutations that are inherited from a person’s parents. The remaining 90%-95% of cancers are caused by mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime as a natural result of aging and exposure to environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke and radiation.
3. Cancer is contagious
No, cancer is not a contagious disease that spreads from person to person. The only situation in which cancer can spread from one person to another is in the case of organ or tissue transplantation.
Risk factors associated with cancer:
3. Infectious agents
Early signs and symptoms
1. Difficulty in swallowing
2. White or Red patches in the mouth
3. Change of colour in wart or mole
4. Appearance of lump in any part of the body
The writer is a PhD research scholar (INSPIRE fellow) at Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir, currently involved in cancer research. [email protected]