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Make Healthy Choices To Lower Your Risk Of Cancer: Dr. Shailesh Puntambekar

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Cancer the once secretive and “whispered-about” disease has now evolved into a deadly, shape-shifting entity, which is one of the leading causes of death in India. The rising cases and deaths are mainly due to the rising population, ageing, and a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

In an interaction with Dr. Shailesh Puntambekar, Laparoscopic Oncosurgeon and Medical Director at Galaxy Care Hospital, Pune, sheds some light on the cancer risks, treatment, alternative therapies, and if ever there will be a vaccine for cancer.

If someone has cancer, will their children get it as well?

Only a few types of cancer can be passed down from families. For instance, your risk of developing the condition is higher if your close relatives have breast cancer, ovarian cancer or bowel cancer. But keep in mind that inherited cancers are much less common than those caused by lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, smoking, drinking alcohol, or not eating a healthy diet.

Can tobacco increase the risk of cancer?

Smoking and chewing tobacco can cause cancer. Tobacco has about 70 cancer-causing chemicals known as carcinogens. Every time you breathe or chew tobacco, these carcinogens get into your bloodstream and get carried to different organs. These carcinogens can damage your cells, which can inevitably lead to cancer.

Is obesity a risk factor for cancer?

Excess body fat increases the risk of several cancers, including breast, uterine, kidney, pancreatic, colorectal and oesophagal cancers. The fat that surrounds your vital organs affects the way your body manages hormones. This triggers inflammation of the body, which results in cancer.

Can stress cause cancer?

Stress directly does not cause cancer. But how you cope with stress can certainly affect your cancer risk. For instance, when you’re stressed you tend to smoke more, eat unhealthy, drink more alcohol, and do less physical activity, all of which can contribute to increasing your risk of getting cancer.

Why isn’t there a vaccine for cancer?

Currently, there’s a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, that causes cervical, head and neck cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine can stave off the hepatitis B virus that causes liver cancer. Both of these preventive vaccines target the virus, not cancer cells, therefore, they work in the same way as flu vaccines. Research for a universal cancer vaccine is undergoing but one of the biggest challenges is that the immune system does not trigger a strong enough response to kill cancer. Some day we will be able to develop preventive vaccines that stop cancers before they start, but we still have a long way to go.

Are there any curable cancers?

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma, thyroid, prostate, testicular, breast and cervical cancer have the highest survival rates. Detection and treatment at an early stage can significantly increase chances of survival.

Can cancer be cured in the final stage?

In most cases, stage 4 or last stage cancer is not curable. But it does not mean that there’s no effective treatment. The goal at this point is to improve the quality of life even if the cancer is not curable.

How do doctors decide to treat cancer?

I believe that the benefits and risk of treatment determine which one is the best for the patient. Some may have one treatment and others may get a combination of treatments. The current treatment options for cancer are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, and hormone therapy.

Which type of cancer is the most dangerous?

The second most common cause of leading deaths in India is due to cancer. The deadliest cancer in our country is lung, breast, oral, gastric, and cervical cancer.

Does cancer have symptoms? 

If you notice new or persistent symptoms, then consult a doctor as soon as possible. One should be aware of the following signs: frequent headaches, pelvic pain, bloating, chronic coughing, breast changes, skin changes, excessive bruising, difficulty in swallowing, frequent fevers, unusual lumps, persistent pain, and unexplained weight loss.

Can natural remedies or alternative therapies help in cancer prevention?

Natural treatment methods like herbs, massage, or acupuncture have been proven to be effective for some patients. Some natural therapies alleviate symptoms and others can interfere with your ongoing cancer treatment. If you are thinking of alternative therapies, it is best that you talk to your doctor first.

How can one prevent the risk of cancer in their lifetime?

I always advise my patients to make healthy choices. To lower the risk of cancer, one must eat healthy, exercise daily, avoid tobacco, practice safe sex, and avoid staying in the sun for long and take regular health screenings.

Note: Cancer is a fatal disease, but if diagnosed at the right time, it can be cured by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or surgery. 


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