Not just the numbers have increased, the age of incidence of cancer is
also markedly low today, causing a sense of alarm among doctors and
Increasing urbanization, lifestyle changes, high levels of industrial and
environmental pollution and the inadvertent entry of chemicals in the human
food chain are factors that are spurring an alarming rise in cancer
incidence in India.
Not only has the numbers of several cancers increased in recent years,
but in an alarming trend the average age of incidence has also reduced
drastically in recent years.
According to recent trends we see more than 12 lac patients a year in India
more than half of whom are diagnosed in advances stages.
While there is no comprehensive data to suggest the increase in cancer
incidence in Pune, clinical evidence estimates a rise of 3 to 4 percent
every year in the number of cases diagnosed over the past decade.
There is no doubt that cancer incidence has increased and cancer is
becoming commoner than it was thought to be few decades ago. Another trend
observed is the falling average age of incidence. In India average age at
diagnosis is approximately being 5 to 10 years lower as compared to western
countries. Also many of these malignancies are biologically more aggressive
as compared to western patients and hence outcomes are little less
While most common cancers in men are head and neck cancers, in females
cervical and breast cancers are in majority. With rapid urbanization, and
change in lifestyles,breast cancer is rapidly becoming more rampant as
compared to cervical cancer, especially in urban areas where women are
delaying marriages and pregnancies.
Many contributing factors contribute to increased incidence of cancer.
Traditionally incidence of cancer was high in the western world. However,
today developing countries like India are also experiencing a spike in
numbers of the disease. Change in dietary habits from traditional to
western, increasing intake of processed/ preserved/packaged foods and
decreasing consumption of raw vegetables are fruits are factors that are
being recognized as probable risk factors. Another hazardous factor is
dangerous industrial and environmental toxicants that are rampant in our
air and water bodies and find their way into our fruits and vegetables.
Excessive use of pesticides also pollutes fruits and vegetables, as does
the use of chemicals that is used for artificial ripening of the fruits and
The causes of rising cancer incidence include lifestyle changes,
industrialization and urbanization and increased smoking, tobacco and
alcohol addictions among both sexes. Early age of menarch, late menopause,
late child bearing, less or no breast feeding are factors that increase
women’s risk of suffering from breast cancer. Breast cancer has already
become the leading cancer among women in urban areas where such lifestyle
changes have occurred in the past 2 decades as compared to rural areas
where cervical cancer incidence still remains higher than breast cancer.
Lack of awareness is one of the leading challenges faced by India in
fighting cancer. A majority of diagnoses in India happen in advanced stages
(stages 3 or 4) unlike the West where regular screenings have ensured that
most cases are diagnosed in early stages and treated. Delay in diagnosis
often means that a treatable disease becomes untreatable. Many people,
especially in rural areas, tend to see local medical practitioners who
might lack sufficient knowledge of the disease or fall for people selling
ayurvedic medicines, due to lack of education and awareness.
According to the World Cancer Report 2014, commissioned by the
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s research body,
cancers figure among the leading causes of mortality worldwide, with
approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer related deaths in
2012. While the 5 most common cancers among men in 2012 were lung,
prostate, colorectum, stomach, and liver cancer; among women the 5 most
common sites diagnosed were breast, colorectum, lung, cervix, and stomach
What is scary is the estimate that cases are expected to rise by about 70%
over the next 2 decades, something that calls for urgent attention on
prevention and lifestyle modification. WHO believes that around one third
of cancer deaths are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks
which are High body mass index; Low fruit and vegetable intake; Lack of
physical activity; Tobacco consumption; Alcohol intake
A sedentary lifestyle that includes lack of exercise, eating junk foods,
inadvertent use of chemicals in foods can increase the risk of cancer.
Therefore, adopting such as regular exercise, eating food on time, intake
of nutritional food, quitting habits like smoking and alcohol can help in
Yes, many if not all cancers can be prevented by following lifestyle
Healthy and balanced diet; reducing intake of packaged foods which
contain added preservatives
Maintaining a balanced weight
Lots of antioxidants in diet, including fruits and vegetables
Avoiding excessive exposure to chemicals; washing fruits and
vegetables thoroughly before use, eating only seasonal fruits and
vegetables as stored food material is preserved using chemicals and