World Cancer Day: The Most Common Cause of Cancer

   |  Updated: February 04, 2015 18:41 IST

World Cancer Day: The Most Common Cause of Cancer

It is estimated that India records 1.1 million new cancer cases every year 

There has been a lot of debate about the common causes of cancer. From stress to genetics and lifestyle, a lot of factors have been blamed, however, health experts agree that tobacco is the most common factor which causes cancer.

Vinit Talwar from Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute in New Delhi says that while in women, cancer is caused due to over exposure to hormones, in men, the predominant factor is tobacco. "Tobacco use - smoking and chewing - is the single most important factor for cancer in men. Nearly 60-70 percent of all cancer cases in men are due to tobacco," said Talwar.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 30 percent cancer deaths can be prevented by addressing the main risk factors -- tobacco use, alcohol, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess body weight. Tobacco use is the single most important factor for cancer, causing 22 percent of the global 8.2 million deaths due to cancer, and 71 percent of the global lung cancer deaths. The southeast Asian region is home to 250 million smokers and an equal number of smokeless tobacco users.

Cancer is a fatal disease that is characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells which can affect almost any part of the body. It is a leading cause of death around the world. WHO estimates that 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015 without intervention.


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Moreover, lung and oral cancers are the most common cancers among men while cervical and breast cancers are the most common cancers in women. In women, cancer is caused when there is early menarche and late menopause, obesity and exposure to viruses like HPV.  It is estimated that India records 1.1 million new cancer cases every year thus, contributing to 7.8 percent of the global cancer burden.

According to a latest report, Mizoram has the highest cancer incidence in the country. "At least 3,137 people died due to cancer in the state during the past five years while 5,888 people suffered from cancer during the same period," said Dr Eric Zomawia, state Nodal Officer for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD).

Zomawia also added that Mizoram has a very high incidence of stomach, esophagus, lung and cervix cancer. As per the Mizoram Population Based Cancer Registry reports, out of the 5,888 new cancer cases that have been reported, 2,659 were women.

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According to Anupam Sachdeva, director, Paediatric Haematology Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation Institute For Child Health, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, "Lifestyle factors, including diet, smoking, alcohol, exposure to sun, physical inactivity, obesity and stress can greatly affect the risk of developing cancer."

Elaborating on the diet factor, he said, "A diet low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high in energy-dense foods that are high in fat (such as red and processed meats), refined sugar (such as refined grains) or salt can predispose one to cancer."

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Somnath Sarkar, of Thakur Pukur Cancer hospital of Kolkata adds, "Such habits need to be curbed from the childhood. Busier lifestyles mean that people are having more and more processed food and fast food. At least one-third of cancers can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle and good diet."

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"Cancer is talked about as one of the most deadly diseases. We are often made to believe that we cannot do anything about it since we do not know exactly what causes cancer. But there is an increasing agreement among health practitioners that a healthy lifestyle can play a major role in reducing cancer risks. Not much is talked about preventive measures as people believe there is nothing they can do to prevent cancer. The truth is they can. By following health lifestyles, they can cut the risk to a great extent," expresses Preeti Jain, consultant Oncology, Columbia Asia Hospital-Gurgaon.

For Sapna Nangia, senior consultant radiation oncology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, an important factor in preventing cancer is getting regular medical care, self-examinations and screenings for various types of cancers - such as cancer of the breast, colon, prostate and cervix. "This can increase your chances of discovering cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. Ask your doctor about the best cancer screening schedule for you," says Nangia.

Comments In addition to this, a significant proportion of cancers can be cured, by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, especially if they are detected early. Nangia cautioned that immediate attention should be given to certain symptoms like unintentional weight loss, any kind of lumps, bumps and sores, chronic cough or hoarseness of voice and lower back pain.

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