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Changing scenario of clinical oncology in India

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New technologies like specialised tools, genetic tests and molecular studies, and widespread availability of imaging investigations, when combined with an in-depth comprehension of multimodal treatment through brainstorming sessions of all specialists, can result in fine and unique nuances of the case at hand. Karan Chopra, founder, Hospido makes the point that the need of the hour is facilitating such sessions in smaller centers in tier 2 and 3 cities

Among various diseases, cancer poses the most serious threat to humans globally. With every passing decade, the burden of cancer mortalities is rising dramatically. According to a recent WHO report, 9.6 million lives are lost per year due to cancer. Even for India, the predictions are that around 1 in 10 people will suffer from cancer during their lifetime. Undoubtedly the numbers raise a concern, but at the same time the field of oncology and the awareness around cancer are undergoing transformation every few years.

The factors leading to cancer are almost the same as in other parts of the world. Improper dietary habits, high-level consumption of tobacco and alcohol, unhealthy lifestyles, environmental pollutants, and even radiation, are counted amongst the primary causes of cancer in India.

Some precautionary measures

Simple measures like prevention and timely detection can go a long way in winning the battle against this deadly disease. More than one-third of all cancer cases can be avoided if people make healthy lifestyle changes, reduce the intake of any kind of tobacco and limit the consumption of alcohol, be more active and exercise regularly, and eat nutritious food. Obesity has emerged as the second largest factor that can be easily prevented by incorporating a simple, healthy diet, avoiding junk food and indulging in at least 30 minutes of daily exercise in our schedule. In addition, awareness about maintaining good hygiene, education, HPV vaccination of young girls and better family planning can also bring down the incidence of different forms of cancer significantly.

The importance of early detection cannot be undermined at any cost. It is the most important tool when it comes to cancer care. In the nascent stage, the treatment gives much better results in terms of survival and quality of life, morbidity of treatment is much less and the modalities of treatment used are quite low. Even the costs incurred remain less. For the same cancer type and organ, the difference in the outcome and costs between stages I and III can be three-fold. In the case of breast cancer, for early detection, awareness about breast self-examination and screening mammograms are 2 of the easily available tools that must be propagated actively.

There is also a need to raise awareness amongst people that the symptoms of cancer are not very different from the symptoms of other diseases. Any unusual change such as incessant cough, change in voice, frequent diarrhoea, bleeding in stools, lump formation in the breasts, irregular periods and so on could be a symptom of cancer, if it’s unexplained and lasts for more than two weeks. Also, cancer can strike people of all age groups, and not just the elderly. Therefore, any persistent abnormality at any age should not be taken lightly and must be extensively evaluated by an oncologist.

State of clinical oncology in India

The rapidly evolving medical technology and the easy availability of technology diagnostic and therapeutic equipment clubbed with the change in practice pattern of doctors has truly given a face-lift to cancer care being delivered today in India.

The management of cancer has improved remarkably. Now oncologists have a better and deeper understanding of tumour through detailed pathological interpretation via specialised tools, genetic tests and molecular studies. Easy access to and widespread availability of imaging investigations have led to better mapping of cancers of various types.

These technologies, when combined with an in-depth comprehension of multimodal treatment approaches through brainstorming sessions of all the specialists on every case, can result in fine and unique nuances of the case at hand. Such sessions, though more frequent at bigger cancer centers, culminate in more effective strategies enabling specialists to have a better control over the fatal disease. Need of the hour is facilitating such sessions in smaller centers in tier 2 and 3 cities.

New and improved technologies and the adoption of digitisation have made it increasingly possible to track the patient’s progress over days, months and even years. Now, medical institutions can store medical images as well as patient records digitally, which are then readily available for comparison with the previous images. These images can then be quickly and conveniently shared between doctors and be easily accessible during the period of diagnosis and treatment.

Oncologists now have improved techniques and strategies at their disposal. Newer methods that have emerged on the clinical cancer care scene include CRS HIPEC for metastatic colorectal and advanced ovarian cancer, oncoplasty to treat breast cancer, robotic surgery for prostate and uterine cancers, and immunotherapy for the commonly occurring cancers like that of the lungs, kidney etc. These are the tools that have efficaciously managed to improve outcomes for cancer patients and enable higher cure rates with better quality of life for most of the cancer types and stage.

Summing it up

Technological advancements in clinical oncology have pivoted the first step towards improved cancer care. This should be further leveraged to introduce new modalities of cancer prevention, harnessing a productivity model where every patient will have instant and equal access to high -quality clinical expertise in cancer treatment.

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