World Cancer Day: Prevention and early detection is key to tackling cancer

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False claims on the internet that cancer is a death sentence are not true. In fact, despite the sobering statistics, cancer is not always terminal. As scientists understand cancer better and develop improved treatments, recovery rates continue to improve.

By Dr. Shivani Sharma

It is estimated that India could witness more than 1,00,000 cancer-related death in the next five years, as reported by Lancet Study. However, as per WHO cancer mortality is significantly reduced when cases are detected and treated early. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the cancer cases are usually diagnosed when the disease reaches an advanced stage, thereby reducing the chances of a patient’s survival. Cancer prognosis can depend greatly on the stage of cancer, with terminal cancer being one that cannot be cured or treated. Therefore, by adopting prevention, early detection including early diagnosis, and screening programs, patients have hugely increased the chances of successful treatment and longevity.

Cancer diagnosis is the beginning of the journey to unlock your chances of survival and eliminate the disease- critical to this is to provide people with the knowledge, skills, and confidence – as well as the opportunities – to close the healthcare gap and ensure universal health access and coverage.

Understanding and recognizing the inequities in cancer care

Inequalities in health are probably one of the most convincing measures which represent the vast inequalities of our society. Estimates by Global Cancer Statistics summarize that cancer is a major cause of death across the world, second only to cardiovascular diseases. Cancer indicators and their incidence patterns are further proof. A closer look at incidence rates through socio-economic, racial, and ethnic groups reveals significant differences. Research conducted by Lancet says that a number of patients from lower-income groups are diagnosed with the late-stage disease for cancers that are potentially detectable at an early stage through screening. But efforts are underway in the scientific, medical, economic, and policy arenas such as implementation of schemes like Ayushman Bharat, National Health Mission programme, National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS), Tertiary Care Cancer Centers (TCCC) to further strengthen infrastructure, human resource development, health promotion, early diagnosis, management, and referral. This is likely to have a positive impact on the availability and effectiveness of interventions available for care, and the quality of life of cancer patients.

Challenging assumptions: A look at the facts

The problem with today’s fast-paced world is that much of the information available is sometimes inaccurate, or at worst dangerously misleading. There are plenty of evidence-based, easy-to-understand resources, reports, books, podcasts, interviews, expert opinions on cancer, but there are just as many, baseless assumptions that also exist. For a common man, it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction, as most of this inaccurate information sounds believable.

False claims on the internet that cancer is a death sentence are not true. In fact, despite the sobering statistics, cancer is not always terminal. As scientists understand cancer better and develop improved treatments, recovery rates continue to improve. People also believe that cancer runs in families, although some cancers are passed on genetically through families, they represent a minority of such cases: an estimated 3–10% of cancers result from mutations inherited from parents.

Reducing stigma; listening to the various new forms of treatments and diagnosis available

Communication is the key to reducing stigma around cancer by raising awareness and promoting cancer education.

Researchers across the world have made major advances in learning more complex details about how to prevent, diagnose, treat, and survive cancer. At the forefront of emerging cancer research is the success of immunotherapy, the growing role of precision medicine, the influence that reducing health disparities can have on cancer outcomes, the use of new liquid biopsies, and machine learning, which is allowing scientists to make use of “big data”.

Precision medicine today is helping in cancer treatment where doctors can choose treatments that are most likely to successfully treat a person’s cancer based on the detailed genetic information of that person’s specific cancer. Advancements leading to faster and less expensive methods of gene sequencing, precision medicine is starting to be used more often to treat patients, most notably in the treatment of lung cancer.

A preventive approach is the best approach

Cancer screening is a significant part of overall cancer healthcare. One of the most effective ways to combat this disease is to detect it at an early stage and completely eliminate it from the body before the cancerous cells spread. Hence, the more frequently one is screened, the healthier and more protected they will be, resulting in improved health outcomes that matter to the patient, not simply to discover a disease state. The earliest the detection of the presence of cancer, the better survival rates are while also bringing with it a lesser amount of treatment in terms of both costs and use of radiation therapy.

Today there are technologically advanced Genetic testing options, mostly done through saliva or blood samples, also play a major role in the prevention of cancer as it contributes to personalizing the health aspect for an individual thereby reducing the curative costs of dreaded diseases like cancer. Inheriting a gene linked to cancer from either of the parents makes the individual much more likely to develop cancer and hence, they should opt for personalized genetic testing. These tests start from Rs 3000 and above depending on the nature and complexity of the test. Although only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, most cancers have their roots in the environment and lifestyle factors including tobacco consumption, diet, alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity. Therefore, the only solution is full-scale defense through early detection and making lifestyle changes, so that nobody suffers in the first place.

Conclusion

Although the roadmap for early detection and diagnosis focuses on cancer, the future of health care lies not only in the effective treatment of symptomatic disease but also in health maintenance—i.e., a holistic, proactive approach to understanding disease risk, early detection of deviations away from health, and intervening appropriately, whatever the disease. Cancer acts as an example to establish technologies and approaches that will deliver benefit across a range of disease areas, incorporating disease prevention via interception of pre-disease, further underscoring the need for partnerships across the health network. With emerging technological capabilities and increased urgency in the post-COVID-19 era, an unprecedented opportunity exists to transform health outcomes.

(The author is Lab Director, CORE Diagnostics. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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