By Dr Kumara Swamy
Lung cancer was considered one of the most rare diseases in the early part of 20th century (according to medical reports in 1912). Over the years, increase in different types of pollutants have led to aggravation of the disease.
Lung Cancer: In numbers
According to a study conducted by International Agency for Research Cancer, lung cancer has been responsible for almost 1.8 million deaths worldwide. The study also highlights that lung cancer is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and is the leading cause of cancer death in women in 28 countries.
In the recent years, factors such as air pollution, smoking, industrial emission and unhealthy lifestyle choices have led to an increase in the incidence of lung cancer in India. The incidence is high in people between the ages of 55 and 80. Lung cancer currently accounts for 11.3% of all new cancers, and is also the most common cause of cancer death (13.7%) as per 'Lung Cancer in India: Challenges and Perspectives, January 2017'.
Several factors and practices have intensified the incidence of the disease.
Habit of smoking
Smoking is one of the major contributors to the rise of lung cancer. Peer pressure and in an attempt to look cool, the younger generation neglect the harmful effects of smoking. It has become almost impossible to persuade smokers to give up smoking despite an intense campaign against it.
While smoking increases the possibility of cancer, the possibility of cure decreases dramatically compared to non-smokers. In fact, the cancer cells get so irritated with the smoke that they shed all their normal identity (technically called as receptors), making the targeted drug therapy useless. Added lung and heart damage reduces their tolerance to treatment which further makes the effective implementation of treatment procedures difficult.
Pollution & adulteration
The other factors contributing to lung cancer are pollution and adulteration. Initially, consuming 4-5 different coloured-fruits/vegetables every day was a message I asked people to follow, something I borrowed from the Japanese lifestyle. But today, we are in dire straits. Adulteration has added to the risk of cancer. Today, it is best is to get access organic fruits and vegetables to avoid adulteration.
One must understand that organic products do not look as good as the ones dipped in chemicals.
It's important to go organic. Making organic fruits and vegetables will not only keep cancer away, but will also bring several lifestyle diseases under control. Of course, the government needs to play an important role by instituting measures to control pollution and adulteration of all types.
It's time to prevent lung cancer, rather than trying to cure it. Putting a stop to smoking, control of pollution, and consumption of unadulterated fruits and vegetables are the only ways to take us back to the world of 1912, when lung cancer was a rare disease.
"Better pay the cook than the doctor".
(The author is senior consultant & head of radiation oncology at Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru)