In Conversation with Dr. Sunil Kumar, Professor, Surgical Oncology Department, AIIMS

By Stanzin Dasal Leh, Oct 16, 2023
Leh :

Q.  What are the early signs and symptoms of Cancer?

Cancer is a complex and often misunderstood disease, impacting lives across the globe. Early signs of cancer can be elusive, but there are several common symptoms to watch out for. While the symptoms can vary depending on the type and stage of cancer, there are some common signs that should not be ignored. These include the presence of lumps or bumps under the skin that don't subside, unhealed ulcers or wounds that bleed, and bleeding during activities like coughing, vomiting, urination, or defecation. Public awareness regarding the early symptoms of cancer is needed. Additionally, symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing, frequent vomiting, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, and jaundice in individuals aged 40-50 can be indicative of cancer. However, it's important to note that these symptoms can also resemble less serious illnesses, and having them does not necessarily mean one has cancer.

Q. Can specific foods like seabuckthorn and buckwheat in Ladakh have anti-cancer properties?

It is essential to base claims about the anti-cancer properties of specific foods on valid scientific evidence. As of now, there is insufficient scientific proof to substantiate the idea that foods like seabuckthorn and buckwheat in Ladakh possess elements that can cure cancer. Therefore, making definitive statements about these foods' effectiveness in cancer treatment would not be accurate.

Q.  Though there is no proper data on the number of cancer patients in Ladakh but we often hear that cancer is growing in Ladakh specially stomach cancer cases. Since you have been visiting Ladakh for a medical camp for a very long time, what is your view on it?

Cancer is a growing concern in Ladakh, and if the current trend continues, it may become one of the leading causes of death in the region. While there is a lack of precise data regarding the number of cancer patients in Ladakh, my observations during medical camps over the past 7-8 years suggest an increase in certain cancer cases, particularly stomach cancer, food pipe cancer, and colorectal cancer. However, it is crucial to note that this observation is not supported by concrete statistical data, making it essential to conduct a comprehensive scientific study to analyze the rate of cancer patients in Ladakh compared to other regions. 
It is imperative to be aware of the disease, consult a doctor when symptoms appear, and not delay seeking medical attention. Remember that early diagnosis and timely treatment are fundamental for effective cancer management.

Q. What factors contribute to the rise in stomach and foodpipe cancer in Ladakh?

A significant factor contributing to the increased incidence of stomach and food pipe cancer is reflux. Reflux, which should not occur in the stomach or food pipe, is amplified by dietary habits and lifestyle choices in the region. The eating habits, smoking, and alcohol consumption in Ladakh collectively raise the risk of reflux, which, in turn, leads to a higher prevalence of these cancers in comparison to other parts of India.

Q. How important is it for individuals to undergo regular medical check-ups to prevent cancer?

Early detection of cancer is vital. It's important to remember that cancer can develop silently over several years without any noticeable symptoms. In some cases, cancer may manifest with symptoms that worsen rapidly. This is why it is advisable to consult a doctor without delay if you experience any symptoms that could be indicative of cancer. In many Western countries, regular screening for various types of cancer, such as breast, cervical, and prostate cancers, is performed to detect the disease at an early stage, enabling timely treatment.

Q. What are the approaches and procedures for cancer treatment?

Cancer treatment encompasses several modalities, with the common treatments being surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In addition to these, there are other procedures, including immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy. The choice of treatment depends on the specific type and stage of cancer. The primary treatment goal at the early stages of cancer is to eliminate cancer from the body or destroy all cancer cells. Surgery is the most common approach for this purpose. While some patients may require only one treatment modality, such as surgery, others may receive a combination of treatments, such as surgery combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. In cases where cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, such as blood cancer, chemotherapy is the primary treatment option. The choice of treatment is tailored to the specific type and stage of cancer.

Q.  What precautions should cancer patients take?

It's crucial for cancer patients to understand that the disease can recur even after successful treatment, a phenomenon known as cancer recurrence. Consequently, it is essential for patients to continue regular follow-up visits with their doctors and not discontinue medical appointments, assuming they are entirely cancer-free. After cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy, a patient's immune system may be compromised for a period, increasing the risk of infections. To mitigate this risk, patients are advised to maintain good hygiene, consume a nutritious diet, and avoid pollution. Regular check-ups are recommended for at least two years following treatment.

Q. Tell us about the survival chances in Cancer.

The survival of a cancer patient depends on the stage at which the disease is diagnosed and the prompt initiation of appropriate treatment. In stages 1 and 2, patients have a good chance of leading a normal life after successful treatment. However, in stage 3, the risk of cancer recurrence increases. In stage 4, where the disease has advanced and spread to other parts of the body, survival chances are grim. Early consultation upon noticing symptoms and the need for regular check-ups after cancer treatment is of paramount importance in improving survival rates.

Message to the readers

“Cancer is a reality in Ladakh and the growing numbers suggest that it might become a leading cause of death in the region. Awareness, early detection, and a proactive approach to cancer are paramount in the fight against this formidable disease. The people of Ladakh, like all communities, must stay vigilant and informed to better their chances in the battle against cancer.”