CAN WE PREVENT GETTING CANCER?
Everyone is afraid of cancer. Diagnosis of the disease often implies complex treatment, disabilities, surgery, chemotherapy and eventual death. Even doctors are afraid of the C word. It is indeed a scary situation for most people.
Fortunately, now many of the cancers can be effectively treated and even cured. Medical science has made remarkable progress. People are living longer than ever. Those with cancers considered incurable at one time are now living for 10- and 20 years. This is made possible by improved tests allowing early detection and surgery, and better medical treatments.
What is cancer? It is an uncontrolled rapid growth of cells in a certain tissue or location resulting in a tumor or a derangement, which in turn, leads to more aftereffects, dysfunctions and eventual death. If we know what initiates this transformation or misbehavior of the cells, it would be easy to take steps to stop that process.
However, we have only theories as to the exact cause of cancer. But we do know of various risk factors that can increase the chance of getting the disease. If we can address these risk factors, then we can reduce the likelihood of catching it. Moreover, if we can detect them early, better cure can be expected with earlier treatment.
Not all cancers are the same. Some are mild and slow growing, while others aggressive and fast growing. There is no single remedy or silver bullet to stop the malignant cells. A whole lot of precautions, lifestyle issues and preventive medical steps are needed for overall benefit. The old saying goes “God helps those who help themselves.” In other words, we must take our own efforts to reap benefits.
Let us see how we can prevent or reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Skin cancers are common, especially as we age and are exposed to the sun and environment. It helps to reduce exposure to direct ultraviolet rays from sunlight for long hours, by wearing protective clothing and hat that covers body and head, and applying sunscreen lotions. Early biopsies and removal of any abnormal looking moles or growths will enhance the chance of cure.
Smoking cigarettes, vaping and use of tobacco in any form are well-proven to cause lung and oral cancers. It is a harmful habit that one can break with some effort. Those who have had history of smoking for over 15 years are recommended to get a low dose CAT scan of the chest once a year as a screening test for early detection of lung cancers, so that they can be treated more effectively.
If breast cancer is detected and treated early, one can hope for 90 percent chance for cure nowadays. Self-examination and screening mammograms are two good measures for early detection. Those who have family history of breast cancers, prior uterine or ovarian problems and nulliparity are at higher risk. Regular exercise and diet with less red meat and cola drinks are more beneficial for women at risk. Once an abnormality is detected, additional procedures are done to finalize the diagnosis and treat to completion.
Men get prostate problems as they get old. PSA testing and routine prostate examination will help detect prostate cancers early on. Women can get cancer of the cervix or uterus. Pap smear tests will help early detection. Any menstrual abnormalities should be reported to a physician early on. If women take HPV vaccination, it will reduce the chance for cancer of the cervix. The vaccine also helps to lower anorectal and oral cancers. Shots against hepatitis help reduce liver cancers.
Colorectal cancers can be spotted earlier by doing screening colonoscopy on all individuals between the ages of 45 to 75. Polyps can be excised before they become cancers. Polyps are precursors for the dreaded disease. They should also report any blood in the stool. One can test for occult blood in the stool via a hemoccult test. Cologuard DNA test is also available.
Routine blood test is helpful in detecting blood cancers and anaemia in initial stages. A screening blood test is being developed to find several types of cancers by gene technology. This is called liquid biopsy.
Routine physical examination by a primary care doctor at least twice a year is needed to follow up on physical checkup, and discuss all screening tests and blood tests. Any and all unusual symptoms, appearance of subcutaneous lumps, new onset moles, nonhealing wounds, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and loss appetite or alteration in bowel habits should be reported and investigated.
Those people with family history of cancers or history of previous cancers or history of exposure to cancerogenic agents or work in radiology or nuclear-related fields or live in polluted neighbourhoods should be more cautious about getting cancers. Good hygienic habits, safe sex precautions and healthy lifestyle choices are of significance.
Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes every day is proven to reduce all types of the feared disease. Obesity is a risk factor and maintaining proper body weight helps decrease that risk. Healthy diet to reduce cancers consists of vegetarian food with nuts, fruits, legumes, lean proteins, whole grains and olive oil and fish oil, while avoiding processed food, red meat and sugary snacks. Addictive drugs and excess alcohol consumption should be avoided.
These are good measures to reduce onset of cancers or early detection of cancers. Genetics and unknown factors do play a role. But healthy lifestyle choices can significantly reduce your overall risk of the disease.
Dr. Venkit S. Iyer, MD, FACS, is a retired General and Vascular Surgeon. He has authored four books – “Decision making in clinical surgery,” “Aging well and reaching beyond,” “The Clinic” and “Geriatrics Handbook.” They are available through Amazon or from the author. His website venkitiyer.com has necessary links and contact information.
Editor’s Note: Khaas Baat sincerely thanks Dr. Ravindra Nathan for his valuablecontributions through his monthly health column starting with our first year of publication.
Diwali Eye Safety: Protecting Sight during the Festival of Lights
As the enchanting festival of Diwali approaches, the vibrant celebrations and dazzling fireworks become the focal point of the festivities. While Diwali is a time for joy and togetherness, it's crucial to be mindful of potential eye safety hazards that accompany the grandeur of the annual event. In this article, we delve into the medical and health aspects of ensuring eye safety during the Festival of Lights.
Eye safety amidst the fireworks
The resplendent fireworks displays that light up the Diwali night sky are a sight to behold. However, they come with inherent risks to eye health. To protect your vision during these dazzling displays:
a. Maintain a safe distance: It's essential to stand at a safe distance from the fireworks to avoid potential eye injuries from flying debris.
b. Wear protective eyewear: Certified safety glasses or goggles offer a robust defense against sparks and debris, significantly reducing the risk of eye injuries.
c. Leave it to the experts: For those unfamiliar with handling fireworks, it is advisable to leave this to the experts or responsible adults who can ensure safe practices.
d. Prompt medical attention: If an eye injury occurs due to fireworks, it's crucial to rinse the eye gently with clean water and seek immediate medical attention. Avoid any rubbing or applying pressure to the injured eye.
Candle and diya safety
The traditional lighting of diyas and candles is a heartwarming Diwali tradition, but it's essential to be cautious to prevent eye injuries:
a. Secure placement: Ensure that diyas and candles are placed in stable containers to prevent accidental tipping, which could lead to burns or fires.
b. Minimize fire hazards: Position diyas and candles away from flammable materials like curtains and tablecloths to reduce the risk of fires.
c. Use candle golders: Candle holders not only add to the aesthetics but also prevent wax spills and the potential for burn injuries.
d. Supervised use: Do not leave candles or diyas unattended, especially if children or pets are in the vicinity. Always extinguish them properly before leaving the area.
Air quality concerns
Diwali's extensive use of fireworks can have significant consequences for air quality, indirectly affecting eye health. Smoke, dust and pollutants in the air can lead to eye irritation and discomfort.
a. Limit outdoor exposure: During peak firework hours, consider reducing outdoor activities when air quality deteriorates.
b. Air purification: The use of air purifiers can mitigate indoor air pollution, creating a safer environment for the eyes.
c. Lubricating eye dops: Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops can provide relief from eye irritation caused by airborne pollutants.
Child eye safety
Children are particularly vulnerable to eye injuries during Diwali, given their curiosity and limited awareness of potential risks. Ensuring their eye safety is paramount:
a. Constant supervision: Always closely supervise children around fireworks, candles and diyas to prevent accidents.
b. Education: Educate your children about the potential dangers of fireworks and the importance of eye safety.
c. Child-appropriate eye protection: Ensure that children participating in firework activities wear suitable eye protection that fits their age and size.