There are about 100 kinds of cancer which attack human beings. It is a disease in which cells multiply uncontrollably, destroy healthy tissue and harm life. It has been a leading cause of death in many countries including India. It can attack any part of the body however the parts most affected are the skin, the digestive organs, the lungs and the female breasts. Cancer causing agents are the tars in tobacco smoke, a variety of other chemicals, and certain kinds of radiation.
Without an early and proper treatment most cancers are fatal. Much research remains to be done although the methods of diagnosing have improved. It is estimated that a third of all persons treated for cancer recover. Cancer develops as a result of abnormal cell reproduction. Whenever anything interferes with the reproductive control of cells, the cells multiply and gradually build up a mass of tissue called a tumour, some of them are benign. The malignant ones are these that invade, compress and eventually destroy surrounding healthy tissue. In addition, cells can break away from a malignant tumour.
They are carried by the blood or lymph to other parts of the body where they continue to multiply and so form new tumours. The spread of cancer from the original tumour to one or more body sites is called metastasis. Cancer’s ability to spread to other parts of the body makes the disease difficult to treat unless detected early. People develop cancers with prolonged contact with cancer causing agents called carcinogens. These attack normal cells and eventually cause one of them to become cancerous. Some carcinogens. These attack normal cells and eventually cause one of them to become cancerous. Some carcinogens are introduced into the body through the nose, mouth, or some other opening, others attack through the skin.
Many cancers are caused by a combination of more than one or two agents. Chemical carcinogens, enter the food supply as a food additive, used in food processing or through use in agriculture. In discharging waste products some factories release chemical carcinogens into the environment. In the beginning stages cancer shows no signs. But symptoms may appear before the disease spreads; change in bowel or bladder habits; a sore that does not heal; unusual bleeding or discharge; lump in breast or elsewhere; difficulty in swallowing; obvious change in wart or mole; nagging cough or hoarseness.
A person who has any of these symptoms longer than two weeks should consult a physician promptly. Cancer treatment is normally done through surgery; radiation therapy and drug therapy. (chemotherapy). One must remember that most people who never develop cancer have an immune system that reacts strongly to cancer antigens. Large doses of vitamin A,C and E have proved to be useful in preventing some cancers in laboratory animals. Some foods contain substances that can prevent cancers. Foods like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, carrots, whole grain breads and cereals and some seafoods. Fats and salty pickles must be avoided.
The mention of cancer fills us with awe and grief. It comes as a shock, like capital punishment. Cancer in Greek means crab. The word was first used by Hypocrates. Tumours in Egyptian mummmies dating back 5,000 years represent the first known human cancers. Though cancer has been present since antiquity it has become more common now. There is after that it may become killer number one by the year 2000.
In India 5 lakh new cases are detected every year and there are 20 lakh cancer patients at any given time. In more advanced and affluent countries cancer has also increased. In the U.S. about 8 lakh new cases are diagnosed annually and there are over 4 lakh deaths due to carcinoma every year. As we get more industrialised, the number of cancer cases in bound to rise steeply. Cancer is a leading killer in the western world, and it is going to be so in India soon. It is a difficult disease to control.
In 1962, scientists promised to put a man on the moon in 10 years’ time. They did so in 1969, in 7 years. In 1971 the then President of the U.S.A., Richard Nixon, declared “we will win over cancer by 1980”. Billions of dollars have been spent, but they are no where near to this end. It does not appear that in the near future there will be any significant break through. In fact, since 1982, there have been no new discoveries in regard to cancer treatment. Brilliant scientists are continuously working on it. Cancer behaves noiselessly and without haste like smothering fire eating into rotten timber.
Cancer is known to be caused by an uncontrollable growth of cells originating from a normal tissue, killing the host by local extension or distant spread (metastasis). As we grow from childhood to adulthood human cells multiply. We increase in height and weight. These cells stop growing after adulthood. In a few people after 35, certain cells start growing after adulthood. In a few people after 35, certain cells stop growing and multiplying again as they did in childhood. What triggers them and makes to grow and re-multiply is still not known. These are cancer cells. Through the blood stream they reach different parts of the body and can settle down anywhere: in the lung, liver, bones and start forming a growth called metastasis. Doctors have not been able to control metastasis. This is the biggest hurdle in finding a cure.
Professor Eric Boxland, Head, Dept. of Biochemistry at the Chester Beatty, Research Institute, London, stated that “most of the cancer in human subjects is due to external chemical factors that could be eliminated. More effort should be expended in trying to find the cause of the more common forms of cancer. The discovery of the cause of the more common forms of cancer. The discovery of the cause and their removal seems to be the most hopeful way of solving the human cancer problem”.
Two third cases of cancer in India is tobacco-related. Tobacco in our country is a poor man’s addiction. Tobacco leaves are flavoured with saffron. The rich and the poor take it mixed with lime. This tobacco concoction is instantly prepared by crushing it by the thumb on one’s palm. It is pressed between the gum and cheek and gradually dissolves in the saliva and is absorbed through the mucosa. It is also taken as snuff and sometimes used as tooth powder. Betel nuts added to a variety of tobacco and kimam along with katha and lime in Indian pan. Lime and betal nuts increase the risk.
Let us not forget the cigarette, which can claim to be the number one carcinogenic in the world. Our poor masses cannot afford expensive cigarettes. They smoke bidis, hukka or chilum. They chew tobacco many times a day and share it with others as a gesture of friendship. When used for 10-15 years continuously tobacco brings about a touch of cancermost common is the cancer of head and neck. It could also be a cancer of the lung, gum, cheek, tongue or any other part of buccal cavity. Manipur, a district in U.P. which grows the most famous tobacco that is chewed by the people can claim to have the highest buccal cancer rate in India. Head and neck cancer which includes cancer of pharynx, larynx and bronchi oesophagus constitutes 52% of all cancers among males in India, whereas in the U.S.A. it is only 7%, since chewing tobacco is not common.
Tobacco smoking produces cancer of lung, larynx, mouth, oesophagus, bladder pancreas and kidney. The greatest impact of cigarette smoking is on lung cancer among those who smoke 2 or more packs per day. It is 20 times more than among non-smokers. Alcoholic beverages multiply the effect of tobacco smoking on cancer of mouth, pharynx, oesophagus and larynx. Heavy drinkers, who do not smoke, have only slightly elevated risk of cancer, but they are more prone to cancer of the liver. Nutritional deficiency associated with heavy drinking is the suspected cause of cancer.
As lung cancer is common among the males so is breast cancer among the females. Eighteen out of every 100 Indian women cancer patients suffer from the cancer of breast. At the Tata Memorial Hospital, Bombay, it was found that breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer in Indian women after the of crevix. The incidence of disease also varies in different ethnic groups. Breast cancer is the highest among Parsi women. The cause for this high rate among Parsi women may be because they marry late, bear less children or because they have a high calorie (non-vegetarian) diet.
Chances of breast cancer in women below 25 years of age are low. The risk increases after 35 years. The early onset of menstruation and its late cessation increases the risk of breast cancer. Full term pregnancy before the age of 25 years is a protection against the disease. The risk of breast cancer is the highest among women who have had no children. This is why nuns have a maximum risk of breast cancer.
The cancer of the vagina called cancer cervix is another common form. It is probably caused by not keeping proper hygiene or by a virus introduced during intercourse. Women who abstain from sex do not seem to get cancer of the cervix. Long hours in the hot sun, may give melanoma, a form of skin cancer. It is quite common in Australia a country peopled by the white and blessed with hot sun. The Brown race (Indians) and the Blacks (Africans) are protected against skin cancer because the ultraviolet rays from the hot sun are not able to pierce much into the skin due to melanin pigment, the colouring matter present in the skin. This cancer is not common in India.
The list of so called carcinogens seems to grow daily. It features such apparently wholly unrelated influences as asbestos, saw dust (carpenter is prone to cancer of the nose), dust in the plastic factory, rubber and leather factories nuclear waste, lead filled exhaust fumes of motor vehicles, nitrates drained into the drinking water from fertilised fields and a formidable menu of man-made chemicals including some drugs, popular food colourings and reagents used in the industry.
Motor vehicles do not harm just by breaking bones and ripping flesh, they also poison the air pouring a good amount of carbon monoxide and peculiarly dangerous lead compounds from their exhaust. The carbon monoxide level in the blood of those exposed for half an hour to Bombay traffic fumes during the rush hour is raised as much as that of one who has been smoking a few cigarettes.
Asbestos has definite carcinogenic effect. Addressing a world symposium on asbestos held in Montreal in 1982, Professor William Nicholas of Mount Sinai Medical School, New York, disclosed that year, 8,000 workers in North America would die of cancer as a result of having been exposed to mineral dust, and the death toll would rise to 10,000 a year by 1990. Three months later the U.S. Manville Corporation the world’s largest asbestos firm, though economically sound stunned the financial community by filling an application for technical bankruptcy to protect itself against some 70,000 existing and expected claims made by workers affected by asbestosis or their surviving relatives or users. The same year the British government announced a general tightening up of safety regulations and halfing of the permitted level of asbestos dust in factory air. Manufacturers breaking the regulations would now be faced with going to prison, instead of merely facing fines.
If this could happen in the West, the conditions of the asbestos factory workers in India is no where better. There is no enforcement of pollution laws or safety standards to make the life of the workers more tolerable. Asbestos workers who smoke are much more liable to develop cancer of the lung than their non-smoking colleagues.
Unfortunately the profit motive always seems to be of greater value and of immediate importance than concern for the health of the working masses. We all know that X-ray should be taken only when it is really necessary. Repeated exposure to X-ray can cause cancer. Exposure to atomic blasts, working in an atomic power station, medical use of radiation in cancer treatment and other diseases like ankylosing spondylitis, exposure to the radium dial of the watch, uranium and radium paints could be dangerous.
The man-made cause of ill health is plutonium, the radioactive carcinogen generated in atomic power stations which lives for a long time and cannot be disposed of. It is a threat to the health future generation who will be affected in their procreation.
Radiation accounts for 3 percent of all cancers. It can involve any part of the body. The more common cancers are of breast, thyroid and bone marrow. Leukaemia can be caused after radiation treatment of ankylosing spondylitis, benign gynecologic disease and neoplasm. The risk starts two to four years after radiation, peaking after six to eight years and coming back to normal within 25 years. If a pregnant woman is exposed to X-ray the new born may suffer from leukaemia and other childhood cancer.
In modern times, items like potatoes, onions and milk are exposed to radiation to increase their storage capacity. Milk can be stored at ordinary temperature for months, potatoes and onions do not germinate after radiation. It is also possible to delay the ripening of tomatoes and mangoes using the same method. This method saves considerable energy as vegetables can be kept at higher temperature than by conventional preservation practices. Tomatoes can be kept at 25 to 30C and mushrooms at 15C. Though the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) New Delhi claims that these preservation techniques are safe for human consumption. How safe is the question. Recent interest has centered round contaminants of drinking water.
During chlorination, several halogenated organic compounds are produced which are carcinogenic. The level of these compounds in drinking water has shown co-relation with the rates of cancer in bladder, colon and rectum. Even among the medicines that people take nowadays there are a few which may cause cancer on later years.
A major discovery in 1975 showed that synthetic estrogens taken during pregnancy produced adenocarcinoma of the vagina and cervix several years later in girls to be born and exposed in the uterus. Ecauses cancer of the uterus.strogen used for menopausal resions. The oral contraceptive has been known to cause cancer of liver, uterus or breast. Even certain drugs used to treat cancer can cause cancer. Immunosupressant drugs given to kidney transplant patients can cause cancer. Lymphoma may occur months after this transplant. It increases the risk of cancer of the liver, gall bladder, lungs and skin.