‘Cancer no longer synonymous with death’


New Delhi : With newer technologies and targetted drugs, cancer if treated in the early stages is no longer synonymous with death, say doctors. At any given time, there are about 2.5 million patients living with cancer in India.

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In India, one million new cases of cancer are reported every year. Despite these figures, doctors are optimistic about the cure and treatment prospects of cancer patients.

Ashok Vaid, a leading oncologist in the capital, who was recently conferred the Padma Shri, told IANS: “With new drugs and technology coming in to treat, and cure, cancer, at least in the early stages – is no longer synonymous with death.”

“New drugs, and targeted treatment in radiotherapy and chemotherapy have evolved and now the scope is multi-pronged and multidimensional,” he said.

According to the Cancer Atlas for India (2004), Delhi has the highest incidence of new cancer amongst males at 126/100,000, while Bangalore has the lowest at 92/100,000 new cases per year. Among women, the rate is 142/100,000 in Delhi, and the lowest is 107 in Bhopal.

For men, cancer of the lung is very common in places like Bhopal, Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. In Bangalore and Chennai, cancer of the stomach is extremely prevalent. Prostate cancer is another leading cause of cancer among men in India. Among women, the most common types of cancer are of the breast and cervix.

“Forty percent of cancers in our country are tobacco related,” Vaid added.

Mass screening and awareness of common cancers like of the head, neck and lung, and cervix and breast in women, and tobacco related cancers, play a crucial role in the treatment, Vaid explained.

“There is tremendous scope for cure now, unlike early days. In the US, Stage I and II cancers once detected have a 65 percent cure rate, even Stage III and IV cancers can be dealt with.”

Vaid said that in India people weren’t aware of symptoms to detect cancer.

“The motto should be – catch it early, treat it early. Now we focus on two things, mainly to prolong the life, that is add years, and secondly to add quality to life,” Vaid said.

People suffering from cancer in the earlier days would have to be given radiation and chemotherapy, which would often cause side-effects and permanent damage to healthy cells, but the technology has evolved and it now seeks to provide comfort to the patient along side treatment.

According to Tejinder Kataria, head radiation-oncology at Artemis Health Institute, “During a radiation treatment session and also from one treatment session to another, tumours can move due to normal internal organ action (digestion, elimination, and breathing). This unplanned position or movement of tumour results in it not receiving the full amount of radiation, and normal tissues may receive more radiation than they can tolerate.”

To overcome this challenge, several technological developments have taken place.

In 2007, Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) was introduced at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Artemis Health Institute here, and Indo American Hospital in Hyderabad and subsequently at other cancer-specialty hospitals across the country.

Through this treatment, the tumour bearing area is mapped out by the machine.

“IGRT is best suited for sites where internal organ motion is expected, for example, cancer of lung, breast and liver, stomach and prostate, brain. The use of image guidance not only improves the focus and precise delivery of radiation, it improves upon the cure rates for cancers where the dose delivery is limited with conventional methods of radiotherapy due to proximity of the affected tissues to critical organs like eyes, brain, heart, lungs and spinal cord,” Kataria said.

As compared to conventional radiotherapy, the treatment through image guidance also reduces the overall treatment time.

“There are other forms of treatment like targeted drug therapy, treatments wherein the patient needs no injections, just a tablet. For radical treatment, limb-sparing surgeries and keyhole surgeries are options as well. Then there is Brachytherapy, a form of radiotherapy used to treat localized prostate cancer, cervical cancer and cancers of the head and neck – technology has come a long way and will continue to go far,” she added.

Despite newer technology and medicines, experts still feel that prevention is better than cure.

“People should shun tobacco in all forms, they should lead a healthy life, must report symptoms to their doctors and go in for periodic checks,” Vaid said.