Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When ‘growth’ hurts…

Unbridled multiplication of cells causes cancer. And that’s about the only thing certain about the disease that threatens to claim about 15 million lives worldwide by 2020. Swati Hora looks hard for hope…

he must have been in her late thirties, tall and well-dressed. iipmShe was holding her husband’s arm with one hand and carried a bulky silver chain in the other. As they covered the distance from the doctor’s cabin to the nearest ward, her weary gait and sad eyes seemed to belie her ostensibly healthy appearance. To me, she had looked better when she was entering the cabin a while back. Sitting at the reception of Indraprastha Apollo Hospital’s Oncology Department, I wondered about this killer disease that mauls the emotions just as much it vitiates the vitals.

Soon after, it was time to accompany Dr. Harsh Dua, Senior Oncologist on his round of visit to the cancer patients. I brought up the most obvious question – why does cancer happen at all – to which he could only offer, “God knows, what’s the reason for uncontrolled cell growth (cancer) in any part of the body? All we know about are certain things that trigger it.” The question seemed to be in the same ilk as the likes of ‘why do wars happen?’, or ‘why did I fail?’ I then moved on from the why(s) to the what (s) and how(s) of cancer. While cancer usually attacks a particular organ of the body, the symptoms are of two types. “General, that is related to fatigue and loss of appetite, and specific, related to the organ concerned,” informed Dr Dua.

With 10.9 million people diagnosed with cancer every year, according to WHO, the clamour for vaccination has justifiably gotten louder. The only breakthrough has been cervical cancer vaccines available as Gardasil (An estimate by Cancer Research UK states one in ten female cancers diagnosed worldwide are cancers of the cervix).

“The cervical cancer vaccination Gardasil, given to girls, protects them from the viral cause – that too just one type of virus, Human Papilloma virus (HPV) – and not from the other causes,” explains Dr Dua. “There is no denying the fact that it is quite an achievement since a lot of cases of cervical cancer stem from this virus that women contract through sexual contact with men, who are the carriers of HPV.” Gardasil thus prevents 90 per cent of HPV symptoms in men and protects their partners from cervical cancer. Now, the administration of these jabs to men is also being considered, although related male cancers are a rare occurrence.

The cervical cancer jab is recommended for every teenaged girl so that they develop immunity before they attain sexual maturity. Due to the same reason, taking the jab after 30 is usually too late.

“Like all other vaccines, there can be certain side-effects (such as an allergic reaction) and the degree of effectiveness may vary too,” reminds Dr Dua.

Talking about cancer vaccinations at large, Dr Dua categorically also warned that the jab is only a small step, and by no means a complete guarantee against the disease and that “separate vaccines for each organ are ideal due to different risk factors”. For an ailment as lethal as this, he says, “To prevent and cure cancer we have to focus on everything – from medical advancements in the field of early diagnosis (more screening programs), better diagnosis, and cure (chemotherapy) to lifestyle changes.” Smokers thus run greater risk of lung cancer, while chewing paan masala puts one at a higher risk of oral cancer.

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2008

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative
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