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The Cancer Scare: Lifestyle And Its Effect

Being aware of the risks that our lifestyle poses to our health is the first step in taking care of our body and preventing it from falling prey to various diseases

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Our changing lifestyles and daily habits contribute to the increase in cancer diagnoses overall and especially to the increasing number of people being diagnosed with cancer at an early age. It might not be the only reason, but it certainly accounts for a large number of new cancer diagnoses every year.

To begin with, consider India's most notorious killers, oral cancers, 80% of which can be traced almost exclusively to the use of tobacco products either in the form of smoking or chewing. In fact, oral cancer is top of the list for cancer affecting men in India, and the third most frequent cancer diagnosis for men and women combined. The other cancers at the top of the list include lung cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancer of the pharynx for men. In women, the most frequent cancers are breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and oral cancers.

These cancers cumulatively account for almost half of all cancer diagnoses made in India in 2012, with the top two in either gender being responsible for 50% of cancer deaths. All these cancers can be prevented or screened for and therefore detected at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.

The obvious culprit in lung and oral cancers is tobacco, which has been known to cause cancer for a long time and most recently researchers have begun to investigate and find out how exactly this happens. For the other cancers on this top 5, alcohol consumption and other unhealthy habits like over-consumption of junk food, lack of adequate amount of vegetables in the diet and regular exercise, have contributed to the expansion of Indian waistlines and the rise in obesity rates. Today, science has established a clear link between increased alcohol consumption and obesity rates and the rising rates of certain cancers. Alcohol even packs a double-punch. It not only damages the cells it comes into touch with as it moves through our bodies, it has also been found to help other cancer-causing factors do more damage. That is the reason why cancer rates are even higher in people who drink and smoke!

When it comes to obesity, research is still investigating the exact reasons for the extent of damage to our cells, but the list of cancers it is associated with is getting longer as more scientists and healthcare professionals look closely at the available data before them. As of today, obesity is known to increase the risk of cancers such as esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, breast (after menopause), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney, thyroid, and gall bladder. A projection for the United States estimates that obesity will lead to an additional 500,000 cases of cancer by 2030. The same analysis also estimates that if every American adult lost just over 1kg on average the burden of all new cancers diagnosed would actually reduce by about 100,000.

Another cancer-causing factor is exposure to radiation. This could be in the form of so-called ionizing radiation, the kind that is used for taking x-rays in a medical setting. However, medical technology has worked hard to minimize the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to during an x-ray over the years. Another form of radiation that is known to cause cancer is ultraviolet rays (like those that are a natural part of sunshine). However, that doesn't mean we must avoid the sun altogether. After all, that's the only way we get our healthy dose of Vitamin D without taking supplements. But every time the skin gets burnt from sunshine or we start to get that tingly feeling from too much time in the sun, the cells in the top layer of your skin are likely to have been damaged in some form or another. The keyword here is the more often you get burnt, the likelier it is that a skin cell is damaged to the extent that will turn it into a cancerous cell.

Being aware of the risks that our lifestyle poses to our health is the first step in taking care of our body and preventing it from falling prey to various diseases.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr Vijay Chandru

Dr. Chandru has three decades of experience straddling various geographies, academic environments and industries. He was elected a Fellow of the Indian Academies of Sciences and Engineering. Dr. Chandru is an Adjunct Faculty at the Centre for Biosystems Science and Engineering (BSSE) at IISc in Bangalore.

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