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The physical and mental toll that cancer exacts is far higher than that of any other disease. Cancer treatment is also beyond the means of most patients, especially in developing countries.
One of the prime aspects of cancer is a lack of awareness about the disease due to which almost all patients are caught unawares when there's a positive diagnosis.
Awareness about cancer can lead people to take preventive measures, such as lifestyle changes, provide post-diagnosis palliative care and, most importantly, detect symptoms that can result in early detection.
A pathbreaking initiative has been taken to create awareness amongst people about preventive measures to avoid cancer, detect symptoms of cancer while it’s still in early stages, and take timely action to treat the disease.
Says Suman Karanth medical oncologist at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, "Head and neck cancers account for one of the top three cancers affecting the Indian subcontinent, accounting for 30% of all cancers. It includes cancers involving the mouth, tongue, throat and voice box commonly, and nasal cavity, sinuses, salivary and thyroid glands less commonly".
The main culprits are tobacco consumption both in smoking and chewable form and alcohol consumption. High usage of Gutkha has been reported in states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi. Gutkha alone contains nearly 28 proven cancer-causing agents. The indiscriminate usage and addiction to such products at a very young age has led to cases of cancer being reported in young adults especially males. Alcohol along with tobacco consumption has a multiplicative effect on risk of cancer. There has also been a rise in cancers of the oropharynx due to Human Papilloma Virus infections.
Low socio-economic status and lack of awareness of the severity of health hazards of tobacco chewing are reasons for increased use of tobacco. Despite measures from the government for national tobacco control, there still seems to be a rise in head and neck cancers.
Majority of head and neck cancers are preventable and if detected early are curable with minimal morbidity. However, the grim reality is that most cases in India are detected at later stages, leading to more severe post treatment disfigurement of face, loss of speech or severe dryness of mouth. This contributes to impaired body-image, psychosocial functioning and poor quality of life.
There is an urgent need to intensify the Anti-tobacco programs in our country. Awareness must be generated among general public, to seek medical attention in case of symptoms like swelling in the neck, difficulty in swallowing, sharp tooth or persistent non healing ulcer in the mouth.
Profile: This article has been written by Dr Suman S Karanth MD (KMC Manipal), DNB Medical Oncology (Medanta – The Medicity) who is Consultant Medical Oncologist at Fortis Memorial Research Institute. Her expertise includes treatment of all Solid malignancies and Lymphoma. She has special interest in Neuro – oncology and GI Oncology. She has vast experience in administration of Dendritic cell therapy and Immunotherapy.
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