November 7 and why it is important

National Cancer Awareness Day

Cancer is a disease in which some cells of the body grow uncontrollably and has the tendency to spread to other part of the body. The word cancer itself is enough to make someone faint or collapse when they know that they are having it in their body. In the whole journey of treating a cancer patient one of the most difficult job of a treating doctor is to break the news to the patient that they are diagnosed with a cancer. Some patient used to just run away from the OPD chamber immediately after hearing that they are having cancer.
If this word CANCER is such a horrifying and unwanted word let us take the opportunity of today’s National Cancer Awareness day the 7th November 2021 to have some insight about this horrifying disease.
National Cancer Awareness Day is observed on 7th November every year in India. Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan first announced National Cancer Awareness Day in September 2014. If we look at the statistics of cancer in India almost 1.3 million people were detected with cancer as on 2020. The five leading sites of cancer in India are breast, lung, mouth, cervix uteri, and tongue. Majority of these cancers were detected at a very advanced stage which make treatment of cancer difficult. The reasons behind this are most people are still not aware about the early sign and symptoms of cancer and those who are detected with cancer are hesitated to undergo treatment due to fear of the cancer related treatment and psychological effect. For this reason National Cancer Awareness day was launched and the main objective of commemorating this day is to spread awareness about cancer through various ways and means so that people will have knowledge about it and subsequently will help in PREVENTION and EARLY DETECTION of cancer. Hence PREVENTION and EARLY DETECTION is the main objective of this day.
Why PREVENTION? Though genetic profile of a patient plays an important role in causing cancer but we should know that some of the cancers are preventable. Cancers of the head and neck part, cancer of mouth, tongue, larynx (voice box), oesophagus (food pipe), are preventable to major extend. Tobacco consumption, be it in chewing or smoking form, is the main cause of cancer in the above mentioned region of head and neck. Not only in these part but tobacco is a major risk factor in causing cancer in other parts of the body like bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, and cervix. Tobacco product contains more than 250 chemicals that are harmful to the body and among these about 70 of them are known to have the potential to cause cancer. Not only cancer, tobacco can cause many other diseases in the body. Hence quitting tobacco can prevent from many cancers and other disease.
Why EARLY DETECTION? Though cancer is considered to be incurable but most of the cancers can be treated successfully if they are detected at an early stage. This vague “incurable” nature of cancer is over exaggerated and the reason that most cancer patients could not achieved a curable treatment is because they are diagnosed at a late stage. As we know cancer can spread to other parts of the body and it does so at a late stage. This spreading of cancer to other parts of the body made it impossible to achieve a curable treatment.
In Meghalaya the most prevalent form of cancer are cancer of Oesophagus (food pipe), Larynx (voice box), Mouth and Tongue. Cancer of lung, breast and cervix are also quite common. As mentioned above most of these prevalent cancers are preventable by quitting tobacco and are curable if they are treated at an early stage.
So how can these cancers be detected at an early stage? Some of the early signs of these cancers are: difficulty swallowing solid food, hoarness of voice more than 3 weeks, any abnormal growth in mouth or tongue or any ulcer that does not heal in 3 weeks, swelling in the neck, coughing with blood passing of blood in stool. These are the sign that can easily be seen by our naked eyes without any other investigation so if we encounter any of these sign we should always consult a doctor for evaluation and if possible consulting a doctor with cancer specialist is highly recommended. It is important to mention that not all people having these signs above are having cancer but it is always good to consult a doctor rather than ignoring it.
The major hurdle in treating cancer is the fear of the people for operation or the side effect of radiation and chemotherapy. Due to this fear people tends to seek other ways and means of treatment and in this process the cancer keeps on increasing and spreading in their body and by the time they reach a cancer specialist it is already in advanced stage and hence incurable. Most of these patients who delayed their treatment are those who are consuming herbal medicine for months and months. Till the present date the only recommended treatment for cancer is either operation or radiation or chemotherapy or combination of any of these. Many studies had shown that Herbal medicine has no cure for cancer but they can be used as supplements but not as the primary treatment for cancer. So let this national cancer awareness day bring some information to all that those who are diagnosed with cancer they should always first consult a cancer specialist doctor rather than wasting their time attending quacks or herbal medicine.
And for those who undergone treatment for cancer we know it’s painful to deal with the side effect of surgery or radiation or chemotherapy but we should know that these side effects are for short term. Never hesitate to approach a doctor for treatment or never get diverted by others opinion regarding other inadvisable treatment. It’s your own body and always fight the cancer with your strong will. The famous author Viktor E. Frankl once quoted in his famous book Man’s Search For Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” So even your part of the body is taken away by the cancer but always put your will and attitude in the right direction when choosing to treat cancer.

(By Dr Chanmiki Sayoo, MS ENT, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist)

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