Recent years have seen a spike in cancer cases in individuals less than forty years of age. Cancer, by itself, is known to be a disease of the adult older population barring some specific types of blood cancer and cancer of the brain and gonads. However recently, classical older age group cancers like breast cancer, oral cancer, and lung cancers are been seen in populations below thirty as well.
This begs us to answer the question of the cause for the same. Can they be prevented? And what can one do to be aware?
Well, ongoing research towards this question could not pinpoint any specific cause but could hint towards possible contributing factors towards this statistic. One of them includes our more hectic stressful lifestyle and our movement towards more unhealthy fast foods as our primary nutrition. The classical western diet of high-calorie, high-fat foods and the use of preservatives are strong contenders leading to cancer. Lack of sleep, excessive use of modern gadgets like the mobile phone could also be contributing causes.
Greater awareness and the availability of more advanced diagnostic tools for better and earlier detection may have also increased detection rates. In previous times, a large percentage of patients would have succumbed undiagnosed and attributed to other causes.
Greater emphasis on awareness programs and the internet have also helped in getting the young population more aware and willing to meet the doctor in case of any abnormal symptom.
The next question naturally would be whether these cancers can be prevented. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regulating diet and sleep habits, de-stressing from time to time using yoga or the occasional holiday, staying away from addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco can go a long way in preventing cancer. Cancer, in short, is when a cell is subjected to external stress to an extent in which it loses its internal regulation. Think of it in a way where someone is constantly teasing or taunting you, there comes a point where you lash back at that person. Similar happens in cancer, where the cell loses its innate function due to persistent external stimuli, becoming an angry abnormal cell. This then starts dividing and spreading to other parts of the body forming colonies of such cells which prevent the normal body cells from doing their regular functions.
And what are the external stimuli that cause this? The same mentioned above; lack of sleep, bad diet, stress, and addictions.
Finally, what can one individual do to be aware? The net and media are filled with all sorts of information. Every symptom is cancer when googled!
A simple formula would be to trust your doctor, understand what symptoms one has and try and identify early. Anything which you feel is not normal should be viewed with suspicion. It could be a lump somewhere in the body, loss of weight, even loss of appetite. This is your body's way of cautioning you. When this happens first go and meet your doctor, do not google and try to self-diagnose. As that can lead to bias and may make something serious very trivial and vice versa. Follow the doctor’s advice to the core, but do make it a point to read up and understand what your problem is once the doctor has guided you.
And last but not the least, focus on a healthy lifestyle avoid any addictive agents like alcohol and smoke. Always remember, cancer is not a death sentence. Courage, determination, and faith can overcome any obstacle. No matter what the age!
(Dr. Prasad Kasbekar, Consultant Cancer Surgeon, M.S., M.Ch (Surgical Oncology), Masina Hospital)