Reduce the Risk of Cancer

February 03, 2020

This World Cancer Day on February 4th, a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), aims to raise global awareness of this deadly disease and is working towards preventing cancer deaths by contributing for extensive cancer research. Since its inception in 2000, this day has grown into a positive movement. So, let's look at what cancer is all about.


Cancer is a malignant growth as a result of the uncontrolled division of cells anywhere in the body. Generally, the cells in the body divide in order to replace the dead cells. But in this case, the old cells survive and continuously divide, forming abnormal lumps (tumors) in different parts of the body. It is a disease that can infect other parts of the body. There are more than a hundred types of cancers that affect the world population today, but few are common occurrences. The most common cancers are in women for the breast, bowel, lung and cervix. Lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer are common amongst men.


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A tumor can be either benign which does not spread and can be easily removed or malignant which spread to neighboring tissues and organs through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Only malignant tumors are cancerous. Doctors have identified four types of cancer on the basis of where it originates.

  1. Carcinomas - Is a cancer of the epithelial tissue or the lining of internal organs and glands. This common type of cancer forms solid tumors. For example, cancer of the lung, breast, prostate and bowel.
  2. Sarcomas - It forms in the tissues supporting and connecting the body. Sarcomas can develop in nerves, muscles, tendons, fat, joints, lymph vessels, blood vessels, bone or cartilage.
  3. Leukemia - Leukemia also called cancer of the blood, occurs when healthy blood cells change and grow uncontrollably. Acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia are the four main types of leukemia.
  4. Lymphomas - Cancers in the lymphatic system is called Lymphoma. It affects the lymphatic system, which is responsible for fighting infection in the body. Lymphoma are of two types, namely Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma


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How is Cancer caused?

Cancer is caused by accumulated damage to the genes. Genes are units of DNA that control the development of one or more traits of a person. They are damaged by exposure to cancer causing substances (carcinogens). However, it should be noted that there is no single cause of cancer in majority of the cases. Cancer risk factors have been identified to be biological (age, inherited genetic defects, gender), environmental (exposure to UV rays, radon and fine particulate matter), occupational hazards (exposure to carcinogenic chemicals) or lifestyle-related (smoking, drinking, etc).


Unfortunately, cancer is difficult to diagnose as it produces no symptoms initially. Symptoms appear as the tumor develops. Very few symptoms are specific as the patient's condition can be confused with a number of other diseases. As a result, it is considered a "great imitator." Therefore, the diagnosis begins when one visits the doctor about an unusual symptom. The doctor determines the cause by referring to the patients medical history, symptoms and test results. Sometimes, the doctor finds cancer after a medical test for another health issue. A definite diagnosis is made by biopsy (the removal of a small amount of tissue for further study).


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Now that we know about the cause and types of cancer, let us look at the ways we can prevent it. The good news is that about 30-50% of cancer cases are preventable according to WHO. The following points should be taken into consideration:

  • Quit Tobacco Consumption: Tobacco is known to kill approximately 6 million people every year. More than 50 of the many chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer. Tobacco smoking causes various types of cancer including cancer in the lungs, larynx, esophagus, throat, mouth, kidney, pancreas, bladder, stomach and cervix. It has also been proven that non-smokers can develop lung cancer.
  • Obesity, Diet and Physical Inactivity: A link has been found between obesity and different kinds of cancer like bowel, esophagus, breast and kidney. A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Cease Alcohol Consumption: Consumption of alcohol is known to cause cancer in the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, liver, esophagus, bowels and breast. The risk of cancer increases with higher alcohol consumption and combined with tobacco. The WHO has recorded an estimate of 337,400 deaths due to alcohol-attributed cancer, mostly among men, in the year 2010.
  • Environmental Pollution: The chemicals that pollute the air, water and soil are mostly carcinogenic in nature. An estimated 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide have been caused by outdoor air pollution in 2012.
  • Infections: Helicobacter pyroli, human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B and C, and Epstein-Barr virus are just a few of the many infectious agents that cause cancer. Cancer caused by infections mostly occurs in less developed countries. On the bright side, there are vaccines available for the Hepatitis B virus and some types of HPV which can help reduce the risk of liver and cervical cancer.
  • Occupational Carcinogens: People working in occupations that release harmful chemicals are susceptible to cancer of the lung, bladder cancer and mesothelioma. They are at a higher risk of contracting cancer than the general population.
  • Protection against Radiation: All kinds of ionizing radiation, natural and man-made sources can lead to a variety of cancers including leukemia and major types of skin cancer. Best ways to prevent radiation exposure is by avoiding excessive sun exposure, use of sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding UV-emitting tanning devices.


Every year, there are umpteen numbers of deaths related to cancer. The reason behind this is the lack of awareness of this disease and ways to prevent it.

The World Cancer Day theme for 2020 is "I Am and I Will." This year, let us all be committed to being aware of the causes and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle to remain healthy.


With Inputs from

Dr. Vighnesh Y, M.D (Internal Medicine)
Consultant Physician, CallHealth

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