In 2022, approximately 14,16,427 people were diagnosed with cancer. Lung and breast cancer were the most common cancers. In India, cancer cases continue to increase. Data suggests one in nine people are likely to develop cancer in his/her lifetime.
Dr. Rakesh MP, Assistant Professor, Medical Oncology, Amrita Hospital shares, “Cancer is one of the biggest masqueraders as it can mimic any other disease resulting in delayed diagnosis. Majority of cases, the signs, symptoms aren’t obvious till it reaches advanced stages. A medical consult has to be taken whenever someone has any unusual symptom which is persisting like bleeding, pain, cough etc. or any recent onset change in body habits or appearance (weight loss/pallor etc.) as noticed by others.”

The role of family history

“Family history is still the most important predictor of cancer risk. However, with the background of family history and also the age of onset of cancer in an individual, one can predict the tendency of getting cancer in the same individual/close relatives via genetic testing. Genetic testing has a major role in cancers like breast cancers/ovarian cancers/colon cancers/prostate cancers/ pancreatic cancers etc. Genetic testing would help the doctor to guide, counsel and take appropriate action in individuals who are at high risk of developing cancer,” adds Dr. Rakesh MP.
However, doctors also see patients who have no obvious cause. Dr Gaurav Jain, Sr Consultant Internal Medicine at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital shares, “Yes, we see such cancer patients with no obvious cause because some of the research indicate that most cancers are not of hereditary origin and that lifestyle factors, such as dietary habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, and infections, have a profound influence on their development. Although the hereditary factors cannot be modified, the lifestyle and environmental factors are potentially modifiable.”

Dr. Sajjan Rajpurohit, Director-Medical Oncology, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital further explains, “Cancer with no obvious cause and no family history is called ‘sporadic’ cancer, and is thought to be caused by random genetic mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime. It is important to remember that even if you live a healthy lifestyle, you can still be affected by sporadic cancer, despite lifestyle habits increasing your risk of developing cancer.”

Are all cancers preventable?

We would like to believe that leading a healthy lifestyle will protect them against cancers but sadly this isn’t the case. Dr. Vineet Govinda Gupta, Sr. Consultant – Medical Oncology (Unit II), Artemis Hospital Gurugram explains, “It’s important to note that not all cancer cases are preventable, and even those with healthy lifestyle habits and no known risk factors may still develop cancer. This is why early detection and screening for cancer is important, as it can increase the chances of successful treatment.”

While some people may have a strong family history of cancer or known risk factors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, others may have no obvious cause for their cancer. This is because cancer is a complex disease that can develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Firstly, a person may have subtle risk factors related to lifestyle, diet, exercise, family history etc which are not clearly apparent. Some environmental toxin exposure may be invisible, for example exposure to radiation from the environment, he adds.

Most commonly missed signs of cancer

Cancer often produces confusing symptoms. We asked doctors what are some of the most common signs that people tend to ignore, which is later diagnosed as cancer, and here’s a list:

Extreme tiredness/fatigue
Unexplained weight loss
Changes in bowel habits
A sore that does not heal
Voice change
Long standing cough etc
Abnormal periods or pelvic pain
Breast changes
Chronic headache
Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
Excessive bruising
Frequent fevers or infections
Postmenopausal bleeding
Unusual bleeding or discharge
Obvious change in wart or mole

Advancements in treatment

The treatment of cancer has improved significantly in recent years. The success of treatments depends on the individual and the type of cancer they have, but doctors and researchers are now able to treat many types of cancer successfully. New medicines, immunotherapy, and personalized medicine have greatly improved cancer treatment chances, says Dr Sajjan Rajpurohit.

The success of treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the overall health of the patient. However, as of today two-thirds of all patients diagnosed with cancer are curable. Among incurable patients, the median survival for most cancers has increased from a few months to many years with modern therapy. Continuous research efforts are pushing cancer survival rates higher year by year, adds Dr Vineet Govinda Gupta.

Most common cancers in India

As per official data, head, neck and lung cancers are most common in men, while cervical and breast cancer is more common in women. There is an increasing trend in the incidence of colon (large intestine) cancers as well.

The most common cancer in India is lung cancer followed by colon cancer and breast cancer. Breast cancer has two main peaks- between 17 and 25 and 45 and 55. Both are ages of changes in hormonal status, adds Dr Gaurav Jain.

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