Cancer, as a disease, has existed all along with man. Hippocrates, twenty-five centuries ago, called it karkinois because the swollen blood vessels going and coming from the tumour mass, gave the appearance of the claws of a crab. Susruta described cancer as a tumour which would ulcerate and would not cure and “sow its seeds in other parts of the body”.
Knowledge about cancer has been gradually gathered over the centuries. Incidence of cancer is increasing in most parts of the world. Cancer being more common in older people, increasing life span of man is providing more and more candidates for getting the disease.
Smoking of cigarettes, air pollution and increasing use (if chemicals, pesticides in particular which in one form or another enter our bodies, act as direct causes of cancer.
Surgery to treat it has been used since centuries ago. Radiation was used to treat breast cancer within one year of Roentgen’s discovery World War Two, provided the first drug in the form of nitrogen mustard to kill cancer cells.
In the 1950s, only 30 per cent cancers were curable. By 1977, diat percentage had risen to 41. By 1980, 45 per cent of all serious cancers were curable; this percentage is increasing fast.
More important than cure is the prevention of cancer. We know that 80 per cent of all cancers are associated with environmental causes: smoking, chewing tobacco, dietary substances, alcohol consumption, radiation, work-place substance exposure, drugs, etc.
Fighting cancer is not just hoping to discover a “magic bullet” to annihilate it. It is much broader a problem: early detection, curative measures, rehabilitation of the patient, psychological problems faced by a patient and his relatives.
Remarkable strides have been made in fighting cancer during the last two decades and spreading knowledge is itself a step towards fighting cancer.