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Debunking Myths surrounding Cancer


World Cancer Day is observed on February 4 every year. The theme for World Cancer Day 2021 is ‘I Am and I Will.’ This year is a reminder of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action.

Hearing the word cancer makes one go pale. It sounds more like the issuance of a death sentence. Even though there is advancement in the medical field and new research is aiding the cancer treatment, there are increasing myths surrounding the C-word.

SUBURB in conversation with Dr Rajeev Agarwal, Senior Director, Department of Breast Services & Soft Tissue Tumour Services at Medanta hospital. He introduced the practice of surgical oncology and the concept of organ-based specialization in oncology to Northern India.

Understanding Cancer

Cancer is a disease of cell regulation. In multicellular organisms like humans, animals & more, there are innumerable cells that form a body. Some of the cells which become bones, some tissues, the brain. There is a process of cell evolution that goes in the body, and sometimes the balance gets disturbed, and extraordinary multiplication of cells get started. In the process, it adversely impacts some particular body part. That’s what is called Cancer. The dreaded word!

Today, many celebrities are coming forward and openly talking about their cancer journeys. This further empowers patients who have been silently battling the disease to speak about their own challenges and indulge in healthy discussions. This also helps establish better understanding and awareness about cancer.

Many myths surround the disease, which in a way come as a hindrance in treatment of the issue. Some of the most common ones are:

1.      Biopsy increases spread of cancer: It is a common belief spread amongst people across the social strata. People and relatives of the patients want to avoid biopsy thinking that intervention into the affected body or growth will flare up the problem. It is the key reason the treatment gets delayed,

In fact, a biopsy is the first step towards cancer diagnoses and treatment. It indicates the type of cancer and helps the doctor in deciding the line of treatment. It is only after a biopsy can one find out the nature of extra growth found in the body, i.e. if at all the issue is cancer or not is a benign growth.

2.      Avoid Chemotherapy: There are certainly after-effects of chemo & radiations, but it all falls under the treatment line of the disease, depending on which stage is cancer in and also which body part is bearing the disease. Chemo does not indicate that the cancer is terminal.

Chemo disrupts normal life forever in a patient. It does not!

“People should be afraid of the disease, not the treatment. If not cured, it can be fatal but side effects of treatment are temporary, not life-threatening as the disease.’’
– Dr Rajeev Agarwal

While the treatment is on, the effects are varied from person to person and post the chemo sessions the patients get back to his or her normal self.

3.      Cancer spread is increasing or is in an epidemic stage: No! There are studies that indicate that cancer is not increasing the way it is understood by the masses. The only difference in decades that is noticeable is due to screening and better medical facilities the number of cancer patients have come to light.

The average life span of a person has increased.  In India, life expectancy is estimated to have gone up from 35 years in 1947 to 67 years now.  With increased life span, cancer has also increased like prostate cancer among men in their 70s and 80s.

A vaccine against cervical cancer has protected many from the disease hence constant medical research is on to find new breakthroughs to fight the deadly C.  

4.       Cancer is a matter of DNA: Many people stay and live believing that if their predecessors had cancer; they would also land up with the disease. A tiny percentage comes in this category of some genetic alteration that runs in the family, making it about five per cent.   

 About the doctor: Dr Rajeev Agarwal, besides being an expert in breast conservation surgery, he specializes in sentinel node biopsy and breast reconstruction as well. Being a well-trained Surgical Oncologist, he is in-charge of Soft Tissue Tumour services at Medanta Gurugram.

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