Cancer is the most feared word among the population.

One in 5 men and one in 6 women develop cancer during their lifetime.

Most common cancer - breast, cervical, oral, lung and colorectal

What can cause cancer - tobacco, h.pylori infection, obesity, family history, exposure to environmental chemicals, hormones, chronic inflammation, alcohol, lifestyle, UV rays

Identifying the signs and symptoms, diagnosing the exact stage of cancer and exploring the treatment options available can help to manage cancer and treat it completely at an early stage.

Signs and symptoms - 

  • Unusual bleeding or discharge from any opening in the body
  • Hoarseness in voice, difficulty swallowing
  • Sore that does not heal
  • Change of bowel or bladder habits
  • Unexplained weight and appetite loss
  • Lumps in any part of the body

Treatment options - 

  • Chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • surgery
  • ayurvedic rasayana therapy

Prevention -

  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Regular health check up post 40 years
  • Manage stress and stay positive
  • Avoid excessive alcohol, smoking
  • Proper diet and lifestyle

With the rise in the incidence of cancer there has been a rise in the efforts to create an awareness towards it.  If you meet any person, he would know somebody who is suffering from cancer.  The disease has become very common and the need of the hour is to be informed of the disease and the steps taken to prevent or manage cancer.



The global cancer burden is estimated to have risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018. One in 5 men and one in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease.

Incidence in India

  • Estimated number of people living with the disease: around 2.25 million
  • Every year, new cancer patients registered: Over 11,57,294 lakhs
  • Cancer-related deaths: 7,84,821

Total deaths due to cancer in 2018

  • Total: 7,84,821
  • Men: 4,13,519
  • Women: 3,71,302

Cancer Facts

  • There are more than 100 types of cancers worldwide.
  • The five most common types of cancer both in men and women in India include breast, cervical, oral, lung and colorectal cancer.
  • One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India.
  • As many as 2,500 people die every day due to tobacco-related diseases in India. Use of tobacco products (e.g. smoking cigarettes) are the single most preventable cause of death worldwide.
  • Among the occupational cancer, asbestos cancer or cancer caused by long term exposure to asbestos micro fibre has been commonly reported
  • Tobacco (smoked and smokeless) use accounted for 3,17,928 deaths (approx) in men and women in 2018.
  • 4th February is celebrated as world cancer day.


Symptoms of Cancer

Cancers that are diagnosed early are easier to treat.


Cancer statistics in India
Risk factors for cancer

It is difficult to point out why cancer develops in some people and spares others, however there are a few risk factors that have been shown to increase the susceptibility of developing cancers. Not everyone with the below mentioned risk factors are susceptible to cancer.  The occurrence of cancer depends on the immunity, duration of exposure to the carcinogens, genetic predisposition and so on.


It is the leading cause of cancer or death due to cancer worldwide. People who smoke and those who are exposed to passive smoking are both at a high risk for cancer.  

  • Tobacco smoke is made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, including over 70 known to cause cancer (carcinogens). Some of these substances cause heart and lung diseases, too, and all of them can be deadly.
  • Tobacco smoke also contains tar and the poison gases carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide which are carcinogenic in nature.
  • Nicotine, a chemical which gives a ‘kick’ to the smoker is highly addictive and one of the potent cause of cancer.
  • The tobacco leaves used to make cigarettes and cigars contain radioactive materials; These radioactive particles build up in the lungs, and over time can mean a big dose of radiation. This may be another key factor in smokers getting lung cancer.
  • Smoking tobacco reduces the immunity and also causes damage to DNA.
  • People using smokeless tobacco, like snuf or chewing tobacco have increased risk of cancers of mouth, esophagus and pancreas.


  1. HPV - The human papilloma virus basically infects the skin and the mucous membrane. For many people infected with the virus, there is no sign or symptom and generally the infection goes away on its own. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease which is spread by close contact with the infected person. The main type of cancer linked to HPV is cervical cancer.
Cancer caused by HPV
  1. H.Pylori - is a bacteria that can survive in the stomach lining and cause infection of stomach and duodenum.  Once infected, the person stays infected for life unless antibiotics are given to treat them.  They can cause inflammation in the stomach, ulcers and is said to be one of the risk factors for developing stomach cancer in people with lower immunity levels.
  2. Hepatitis - Hepatitis B and C virus have been known to cause cancer. This virus spreads through blood contact, for example usage of infected needles, blood transfusions, toothbrushes, razors and through unprotected sex. These viruses can cause liver cancer and non-hodgkin's lymphoma.

The above infections are the most common cause of cancers.  Apart from them, there have been few incidences of cancer

  • From people suffering from AIDS, HIV lowers the immunity and makes the cells of the body susceptible to cancer formations.
  • EBV, or Epstein-Barr virus, is a very common virus – more than 9 in 10 people are infected worldwide. It spreads through saliva. The virus infects a type of cell called ‘B-cells’ that form part of our immune system – the body’s defence against disease. This is another factor for developing cancer.

Family History

An increased risk of developing certain cancers can be inherited in the genetic material passed from generation to generation, accounting for up to 4 percent of all cancers world wide2.

  • Some faulty genes that increase the risk of cancer can be passed on from parent to child. These are called inherited cancer genes.
  • However for the gene to manifest in the form of cancer, some environmental factors like tobacco/certain chemicals can act as a trigger.

Obesity and Insulin resistance

Obesity and cancer

Obesity also leads to insulin resistance where the body is unable to utilise insulin effectively to absorb glucose from the blood.  The cancers of colon, pancreas and liver are associated with insulin resistance.

Other likely causes for developing cancer

  1. Age - the cancer risk increases with the age. The risk is higher when there is a family history of some relative who had cancer.
  2. Alcohol - excessive drinking causes 7 types of cancer, including breast, mouth and bowel cancer.
  3. Pollution - Pollution of the air (indoor and outdoor), water, and soil causes an estimated 1 to 4 percent of all cancers worldwide. Smoke from car or from burning coal/wood are potential carcinogens. Overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and poor water quality add to the risk.
  4. Ultraviolet radiation - Natural UV radiation from the sun have been known to cause skin cancer, however the incidence is very low.
  5. Cancer risk in workplace - occupational risks include those working in mines due to exposure to coal products, silica and other chemicals, those working in the chemical industry, exposure to solvents and paints etc.
  6. Hormones - Hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptive or exposure to synthetic hormones either in milk or other products can be a trigger.
  7. Lifestyle - a diet low in cancer preventing fruits and vegetables, whole grains plus low levels of physical activity have been known to be a risk factor in developing cancer.
  8. Chronic inflammation - Chronic inflammation can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions of unknown origins. They have been known to increase the risk of cancer.


Diagnosis of the cancer cells is done in the following ways:


Imaging includes X-rays, ultrasonography, CT (computerised tomography) scan, PET (positron emission tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). These scans help to study the tumour and their location

Laboratory tests

Include tests on blood, urine, fluids and other tissues to assess the status of cancer by checking the tumour markers (chemical compounds which increase when cancer is present)

Pathological examination

In most cases, doctors need to do a biopsy to make a diagnosis of cancer. A biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor removes a sample of tissue. Microscopic evaluation of the tissue is carried out to determine the size of the tumour, its growth into other tissues and organs, the type of cancer cells, and the grade of the tumour (how closely the cancer cells resemble normal tissue).

Additional information about cancers is found during surgery. Surgical reports describe the size and appearance of tumours and may include observations about lymph nodes and nearby organs.

Stages of cancer

Knowing the stage of cancer is important since it helps the doctor to decide the best treatment options available. To diagnose the stage, different tests, x-rays, scans and other lab procedures are carried out.

Stages of Cancer

stage 0 – indicates that the cancer is where it started (in situ) and hasn't spread

stage I – the cancer is small and hasn't spread anywhere else

stage II – the cancer has grown, but hasn't spread

stage III – the cancer is larger and may have spread to the surrounding tissues and/or the lymph nodes (part of the lymphatic system) 

stage IV – the cancer has spread from where it started to at least one other body organ; also known as "secondary" or "metastatic" cancer


The treatment options depend on the type of cancer, its location and which stage it is in.  For some people, just one form of treatment is required while for others combination of treatment has to be given like a combination of surgery and radiation therapy. There are three modes of treatment -

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiation therapy
  3. chemotherapy


Surgery is a good option for localised hard tumours that are contained in one area.  Sometimes surgery is the only required treatment to get rid of the tumour.  Some surgeries remove the whole tumour while some remove a part to ease the pain or to prevent damage to other organs.

Side effects

  • There could be pain in the area where surgery was performed
  • Other risk could include infections/bleeding/reaction to anaesthesia.

Radiation therapy

This therapy uses high dose of radiation to kill the cancer cells or to shrink them. It works by damaging the DNA of cells. Once the cell die, they stop dividing and are eventually removed by the body.

Radiation therapy is sometimes combined with surgery to treat cancer.  

  • Before surgery to shrink the size of the tumour so that it is easier to remove by surgery
  • During surgery so that the radiation is aimed directly at the tumour and not through the skin, making it more effective to work on the cancer cell
  • After surgery, to remove any traces of cancer cells remaining.

Side effects - apart from the cancer cells, this treatment also destroys the healthy cells. Depending on the area where the radiation has been given, the side effects differ.  However fatigue, hair loss, loss of appetite are one of the common side effects seen from this treatment.


Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs to treat cancer that can help to improve the quality of life or even improve the survival rate of a cancer patient.  These drugs can also stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells.  These drugs are either used as the only treatment option or in combination with surgery.

Side effects - Since chemotherapy causes death of healthy cells also, it can cause many side effects. The cells of mouth, intestine and those that stimulate hair growth are the ones more commonly affected. This can lead to mouth ulcers, nausea, hair loss and fatigue.

Management of Cancer

In case, the cancer is in advanced stages, then steps should be taken by the family members and by the health care providers to try and improve the quality of life of the cancer patient.

After active treatment for cancer, a plan can be developed to monitor for cancer recurrence or spread, follow-up for and management of health problems related to cancer treatment.

People with cancer may experience psycho social distress at any point from diagnosis through treatment.

 Psycho social distress is defined as an unpleasant emotional experience that may be psychological, social, or spiritual in nature. These feelings may become severe and disabling, and may result eventually in a diagnosis of major depression. Proper counselings and support enables not only the patients but also the family members to cope with the disease.

Nutritional food with supplements, some amount of physical activity, yoga, music therapy and meditation plays an important role and compliment the ongoing cancer treatment.


Our body has an excellent mechanism to heal itself and prevent any disease. However continuous exposure to the external stressors can lower the defences after a period of time and can act as a trigger for the proliferation of cancer cells.

We can follow certain Do’s and Don’ts that can help to prevent cancer.

Ways to prevent cancer


Following a healthy lifestyle

  • Include colored vegetables and fruits5 (4-5 servings daily)
  • Include whole grain cereals, pulses, millets and avoid refined foods and sugar
  • Purchase organic produce as far as possible or from a reliable source
  • Exercise daily
  • Get enough good quality sleep
  • Limit the usage of electronic gadgets especially those that emit radiations.
  • Opt for natural products, be it for cosmetics or for other household cleaning agents

Maintain a healthy weight

  • Fluctuations in the body weight or excess weight can be an added stress to the body. Maintain a healthy weight with proper diet and exercise.
  • Avoid crash diets and follow a healthy lifestyle

Manage stress

  • Relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation help to manage stress
  • Setting up realistic goals and not being too critical of yourself
  • Being socially active - interaction with friends and family
  • Indulging in a hobby - art, music, dance, cooking or learning a new skill
  • Taking a break once in a while to recharge.

Have a positive attitude toward life

Regular health checkup post 40 years.


  • Avoid tobacco in any form - either smoking or chewing
  • Avoid the smoking areas
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Limit eating out, try to eat home cooked meals as much as possible
  • Avoid having sex with multiple partners
  • Avoid sedentary lifestyle
  • Avoid over exposure to sunlight
  • Avoid non-stick cookware or those with teflon coating

Herbs and Supplements

As per the research done and published in the international research journal of ayurveda, called ‘Ayu’ 9, the efficacy of an Ayurvedic formulation, Rasayana Avaleha, has been evaluated as an adjuvant medication to modern radiotherapy and chemotherapy. it was observed that Rasayana Avaleha gave better results in controlling the adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The herbs that were a part of this Rasayana included, Amalaki, Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Yashtimadhu, Pippali, Tulasi, sugar and ghee. Many of these herbs have high antioxidant activity, stimulates immune system, anti-tumour and anti-ulcer properties and have the ability to regenerate new healthy cells.

Ayurvedic Perspective

In Ayurvedic concept, according to ‘Charaka’ and ‘Sushruta Samhitas’ cancer is described as inflammatory or non-inflammatory swelling and mentioned either as ‘Granthi’ (minor neoplasm) or ‘Arbuda‘ (major neoplasm). Cancer is the result of ‘tridoshas’ (imbalance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha).

Treatment as per ayurveda - Rasayana therapy

Rasayana therapy is one of the eight specialities of the ayurveda. Rasayana Therapy aims towards restoration of health, strengthening of body tissues, increasing life span, preventing diseases and improving quality of life. Rasayana plays a major role in cancer treatment and prevention.

How does this therapy work?

Rasayana makes each and every cell of the body healthy and thus reduces the risk of cancer progression. Rasayana has no cytotoxic effect on cancer cells, rather it strengthens normal cells and induces programmed cell death in cancerous cells.

In the advanced stages of cancer, this therapy helps to prevent further spread of cancer and reduce the burden of tumour.

  • Taken as an adjuvant along with chemotherapy/radiotherapy, Rasayana helps to tolerate/reduce the side effects of these therapies.
  • Rasayana also helps to reduce the number of chemo/radiotherapy cycles required to reach the required stage of treatment.
  • Rasayana therapy improves the quality of the patient’s life and increases the life span by many folds
  • It also helps a lot in reducing the chances of relapse or metastasis especially in patients who have undergone surgery for tumour removal.

Benefits of taking rasayana therapy

  • Improve the quality of life without any side effects or toxicity`
  • Reduces the side effects of other conventional treatments like chemo/radiotherapy
  • Can be taken as an adjuvant along with other conventional treatments
  • Rasayana can be taken at home which does not require hospitalisation
  • It is considered very beneficial especially in advanced stage cancer patients in which curative goal is not feasible.

More details regarding the therapy can be found from the link


Bursting Myths on Cancer

You will not get cancer if no one in your family has cancer - Myth

There is no guarantee that you will not have cancer if there is no family history of cancer. Only 5-10% are familial or hereditary. The rest are caused due to changes in the genetic material owing to environmental factors, lifestyle factors, age and so on.

Cancer is a death sentence - Myth

Diagnosis of cancer does not mean a person will die in a short period of time. With the advancement in medical field, there has been an increase in the survival rates. Again, the earlier the diagnosis, better are the survival rates.

Cell phones cause cancer - Myth

To date there has been no convincing evidence of use mobile phones or mobile towers leading to cancer. Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF (radiofrequency fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease3

Animal studies also does not give any conclusive evidence of the same4

Cancer can be very painful - Myth

Cancer in the initial stages will not cause pain. However if the cancer cells continue to divide and expand, it may become painful. There are medications and other pain management techniques to deal with the pain sufficiently.

Cancer is contagious - Myth

Cancer is not contagious. However certain cancers are caused by viruses which can spread on contact from one person to another leading to infections. Having said that, a person with the virus can develop cancer but another person with the same virus may not develop cancer. It all depends on the genetic susceptibility and the immune response of that person.

People with cancer cannot perform the regular activities and are bound to bed for life - Myth

Many people need to stay in hospital for cancer treatment for a short duration only. They can do their regular activities, take care of family, do part time or full time job, pursue their hobby and so on even with the ongoing cancer treatment.

Person’s attitude determines the recovery from cancer - Myth[a]

There is no convincing data or evidence that links a person’s attitude to cure of the cancer. It is normal to feel sad, angry, hopelessness for a person diagnosed with cancer. However there are research papers which showed lowered immunity in people with high psychological stress7

The psychological well-being could improve the human body immune responses, enhance resistance towards diseases (including infectious diseases), and create a spiritually and physically more prosperous life8.

Cancer is caused by food colours and artificial sweeteners - Myth

Again, there is no scientific backing supporting the same. Certain reports do suggest that a person can be susceptible to cancer on a long term and heavy intake of such food additives6, but more research needs to be done in this area to get a conclusive evidence.


In the nutshell, prevention is always better than cure. Embrace a healthy lifestyle and forego the bad habits like smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Manage stress by having a positive attitude and with techniques like yoga and meditation. Regular health checks help you to keep a tab on any abnormality in the body.

If you or anyone you known have been diagnosed with cancer, get the complete information on the disease and its possible treatment options. Cancer is not the end!



2 Stewart BW, Kleihues P. World Cancer Report. Lyon, France: IARC Press; 2003







9 Ayu. 2010 Oct-Dec; 31(4): 417–423.

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