Is our lifestyle giving us tumours and cancers? the harsh truth

With tumours and cancers becoming one of the leading health challenges for people across the world, MrFactBook brings out a doctor’s view on how to deal with them and live a healthier life.
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June 8 is observed as the World Brain Tumour Day to raise awareness about the health dangers of tumours, particularly those causing neurological issues. All tumours don’t develop into cancers, but when they do, they can be a serious threat to the patient’s life. We spoke to Dr Sonal Gupta, senior director and HoD of neurosurgery at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi, about tumours and their diagnosis. Excerpts:

What is a tumour and how is it different from a cyst and cancer?

A tumour is a solid mass of tissue due to abnormal growth of cells. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac.

Cancer is a term for tumours that invade surrounding tissues, grow rapidly and can spread in other parts of the body too.

How would a person know they have a tumour and it’s time to see a doctor?

Signs can vary but might include unexplained pain, a lump you can feel, losing weight without trying, headaches, or changes in vision or movement. If you notice any persistent or unusual symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor. CT Scan and MRI can help detect tumours of the brain.

What kinds of tumours develop into cancers and can they be prevented from turning malignant?

Most of the tumours that are benign or noncancerous remain benign. Some tumours over time can turn cancerous. So, timely diagnosis and treatment of tumours is necessary.

What are some common misconceptions about tumours and how can they be addressed?

Many people think all tumours are cancerous, which isn’t true. Tumours can be treated with alternative forms of medicines and will shrink with medicines. These are myths and proper awareness programmes will help to spread truth around the diagnosis and treatment of tumours.

A study last month described India as the ‘cancer capital of the world’. Is India’s healthcare system prepared to handle the increasing volume of cancers?

India faces big challenges with its healthcare system. Government and private healthcare system, put together there is no challenge in treating a huge number of cancer patients. At the same time, access to care in government setup and fewer number of insured families etc remain a challenge.

Is the current lifestyle contributing to more tumours and cancers, or is it just better diagnostics?

Both play a role. Unhealthy lifestyles, such as poor diets, lack of exercise, and exposure to pollutants, increase cancer risk. At the same time, advancements in technology mean that more tumours are being detected early. Microscopic brain surgery techniques allow for the removal of tumours with minimal impact on healthy tissues thus maintaining good brain health. Incidentally, Brain Health and Prevention is the theme of this year’s Brain Tumour Day.

Are there tumour marker tests which can detect tumour formation at an early stage?

Yes, there are blood tests that can find specific markers linked to certain types of tumours. These tests can help detect tumours early, making treatment more effective.

How do you approach the emotional and psychological support of your patients and their families?

We provide comprehensive care that includes emotional and psychological support. This involves counselling, support groups, and holistic care to help patients and their families cope with the stress and anxiety of a tumour diagnosis and treatment.

Are there alternative treatment methods available like removing tumours without surgery?

Yes, besides surgery, there are treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies. New methods such as cryoablation (freezing the tumour) and focused ultrasound (using sound waves to destroy the tumour) are in the experimental stage in most cancers.

How helpful are new technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning in making treatment less agonising for patients?

New technologies like AI and machine learning improve accuracy in diagnosis, help personalise treatment plans, and predict outcomes, making the treatment process smoother and less painful for patients. For example, neuronavigation in brain tumour surgery is AI based and allows minimally invasive precision surgery.

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