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Monday, February 6, 2012

Cancer


The good news about cancer.

With the treatments available today, it is possible to hit the disease for a six.

Harmala Gupta*
Yuvraj Singth (the world renowned cricketer of India) is stricken with cancer today, but why the long faces? All kinds of people had cancer, battled with it and emerged winners. The ‘C’ word no longer evokes the dread it once did and there are several good reasons for this.

See the photograph (in The Tribune  of February 6, 2012 published from Chandigarh, India) of Lisa Ray, a model and Bollywood actor who fought back a rare cancer of the white blood cells with advanced treatment, is among the more famous survivors of the disease.

More people are alive today with cancer and enjoying a good quality of life than at any other time in human history. This is encouraging news and a is a tribute to the progress made by scientific research thanks to which we know how different cancers occur and grow. This in turn has led to the development of more effective drugs and treatments. Looking back over the last 20 years alone, the progress has been phenomenal.

Progress in treatment

Whereas two decades ago cancer specialists had only mutilating surgeries, highly toxic chemicals or radiotherapy treatments based on a cobalt source to offer their patients, today not only have these treatments been greatly refined but treatments that target specific genetic mutations in the cell, hormonal treatments and immunotherapy all a role to play and have made cancer less of a death threat.

Gone are the days, for example when a women’s entire breast was removed, including the lymph node’s under her arm which severely impacted her ability to use her arm again, after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Removal of the malignant lump in the breast, followed by radiotherapy, is the preferred course of treatment now at any reputable cancer institution.

Radiotherapy too is administered by a machine known as a linear accelerator which uses an x-ray technique that administers radiation more precisely than the earlier generation radiotherapy machines. These new machines are so accurate that the negative side-effects associated with exposure to radiation have been almost eliminated. This has resulted in both enhanced survival and a better quality of life after treatment.

Cure rates

The cure rates for cancers in children in the West have climb up to a remarkable 80 per cent. This is true also for certain adult cancers like lymphomas and breast cancer. This once again makes the point that the battle against cancer is being won by using a number of techniques and approaches which include stem cell therapy and bone morrow transplants. In fact, so effective are these treatments for certain cancers so that no time is lost in using standard treatments which are unlikely to impact them. Drugs to prevent certain breast cancer are also being talked about these days.

The answer for the future surely lies in an even more intimate and detailed understanding of how cancer cells proliferate and what genetic changes in a cell trigger a malignancy. The key lies in more research and clinical trials. At cancer conference around the world, it is the data collected by treating doctors in their clinics that ha to be matched and married to research being undertaken in laboratories. This is where support for research on cancer and for the development of drugs needs to be undertaken by a public institution rather than by private pharmaceutical companies alone. The National Cancer Institute in the U.S is an example is an example of one such institution which has contributed in a major way to the progress made in the treatment of cancers both in the U.S and world wide.

Matter of time

It is true that there are still cancers that are more intractable and difficult to treat than others. But certainly it is but a matter of time before they too will become less life limiting. What needs to be factored in here is the need for each one of us too to be more vigilant when it comes to diagnosing cancer. Should we have an unhealthy lifestyle, use tobacco consistently in any form or have a history of a particular type of cancer in our family we must go for regular check ups. As we hear time and again when it comes to cancer the earlier you catch it and treat it the better.

So, while we may feel sorry for Yuvraj, let us remember that when it comes to treating cancer successfully we are today in the golden age and Yuvi has number of factors working in his favour. He is young, suffers from no other chronic conditions and is healthy given his sporting background.

More than that he has shown time and again that he is man who can rise to the when asked to do so. What he now needs from those around him and from all of us, his well-wishers, is an equal belief in his ability to fight back and hit cancer for a six.

*Harmala Gupta is a cancer survivor. She is founder of CanSupport which has pioneered home based palliative care for cancer for cancer patients in India. For information, email: harmalagupta@cansupport.org

Source: Newspaper The Hindu dated February 6, 2012.
 

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