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Cancer Therapies Offer More Hope Than Ever, But Late Diagnosis Hinders Them

04/11/2016 12:22 PM IST | Updated 07/11/2016 8:54 AM IST
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In 1971, US President Richard Nixon was one of the first political leaders to declare a "war" on cancer. Since then, many countries have made the fight against cancer a part of their national health programs. This complex disease has challenged doctors and researchers for decades, but we have made good progress. Although it may have been slow, it is something which we can be proud of today. From medical research to disease awareness, diagnostics to affordable treatment and a better quality of life, this progress can be felt on multiple levels.

Late detection has made treatment a bigger challenge, leading to worse outcomes and increasing cancer mortality rates.

That said, India needs faster and more efficient access to better diagnostics and advanced treatment methods. In India, more than 12 lakh cancer cases are detected each year. A number of different cancers have been detected in the country including cancer of the breast, cervix, oral cavity, lungs, prostate, stomach, rectum, liver, oesophagus, blood and bladder. A significant problem in India is that cancers are not detected early. Late detection has made treatment a bigger challenge, leading to worse outcomes and increasing cancer mortality rates. If we can identify cancers earlier, when they are small and isolated in the body, the latest treatments will be more effective and patients will receive better prognoses.

Advances in cancer treatment

The three mainstays of cancer treatment are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and they are often used in combination to give patients a better chance of survival.

Advances in imaging technology, including ultrasound (sonography), computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans) and positron emission tomography (PET scans), have made it possible for doctors to have a better understanding of the tumour: its location, accessibility, treatment options and how well therapy is working.

New developments in surgical procedures have given doctors a range of cutting-edge instruments, enabling them to operate with a high degree of precision. These include:

  • Cryosurgery, which is a less invasive surgical method that uses a cold probe to kill or freeze tumour cells. It is also referred to as cryoablation or cryotherapy.
  • Lasers, usually carbon dioxide, argon or Nd:YAG (Neodymium: Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet) lasers, that can be used for very precise surgical work instead of traditional scalpels.
  • Radiofrequency ablation, which uses a thin probe to transmit high-energy radio waves that heat the tumour and kill the cells.

The importance of radiotherapy in cancer management

Since its first use in 1903, radiotherapy, which uses high-energy waves or particles to destroy cancer cells, has found multiple, critical uses in cancer therapy.

There are basically two common types of radiotherapy:

  • Photon radiation: This is similar to the kind of radiation from an x-ray machine. The rays go through to the cancer cells and exit the body, but can also affect the other cells in their path.
  • Particle radiation: This includes neutron beams, proton beams, carbon ion radiation and alpha and beta particles

Radiotherapy may be given as external beam radiation (the radiation comes from a machine outside the body), internal radiation (the radiation source is put inside the body) or systemic radiation (radioactive drugs are introduced in the body through a vein or the mouth).

The tremendous progress in medicine and science has given us advanced cancer diagnostics and treatments options. In my opinion, wider access to these diagnostic and treatment options in India can help us treat cancer with greater confidence and a high degree of precision, offering Indian patients the very best in available cancer care and helping the country fight the war against cancer with greater success.

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