American Academy For Yoga in Medicine

India’s escalating battle as the ‘cancer capital’

Cancer was once considered a disease that was primarily affecting Western nations; sadly, it has firmly entrenched itself within the Indian healthcare landscape, which is posing significant public health concerns.

According to the 4th edition of Apollo Hospital’s Health of Nation Report, released on World Health Day 2024, the prevalence of NCDs, such as cancer, is reaching critical levels and significantly impacting the nation’s health. Because of this alarming rise in Cancer cases, this report also dubbed India the “cancer capital of the world.” The number of cancer cases in India is on a sharp rise, with projections showing an increase from 13.9 lakh cases in 2020 to 15.7 lakh cases in 2025. This data represents a significant 13% growth in merely five years. Alongside, the cancer burden, measured in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), is projected to grow from 27 million in 2021 to almost 30 million by 2025. It is important to remember that such statistics may not be comprehensive given India’s poor record of tracking and screening cancer, so the actual numbers may be higher than projected. Apart from this, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR) report that the incidence of cancer in India has been steadily increasing over the years.

Although India has recently reported more than a million new cases every year, its rate is still lower than that of some countries like Ireland, Belgium, and Denmark, which register some of the highest cancer rates in the world. It is also lower than that of the U.S., which reports 300 new cases for every 100,000, whereas India registers 100. This shift in trend requires closer observations, introspection, and understanding of its ramifications. Given its disastrous consequences, addressing this growing menace is crucial, even on economic grounds.

The increase in cancer occurrences in India is not an abrupt occurrence but rather a result of multiple factors that have been developing over many years. The swift urbanization, adoption of unhealthy habits, environmental contamination, genetic predispositions, and insufficient availability of high-quality healthcare services have all played a part in the rise of cancer cases. The aging population and enhanced diagnostic capabilities have also contributed to identifying a greater number of cases.

Accumulated research bears evidence to the fact that prolonged stress plays a pivotal role in increasing both morbidity and mortality for many non-communicable diseases, including cancer. While whether stress can initiate the cancerous process is up to debate, stressed individuals with cancer have poorer prognoses than those without. Exposure to stress has been linked to an increased risk of most forms of cardiovascular disease, which is a well-researched concept. Stress and cancer may be linked, in part, to the body’s response to cortisol, a stress hormone. The body releases cortisol during stressful events, but levels tend to drop once the threat passes. On the other hand, long-term exposure to stressors can cause cortisol levels to remain elevated, which can cause the body to experience cellular fatigue. Augmented cortisol’s presence in the blood also accentuates impaired immunity that may enable pathogens, particularly viruses, some of which are carcinogenic, to enter and proliferate inside the body.

India is confronted with a multitude of obstacles in its battle against the increasing prevalence of cancer. Insufficient knowledge regarding the factors that contribute to the disease and its symptoms, cultural stigmas surrounding cancer, and the negative perception associated with being diagnosed with cancer frequently leads to delayed identification and diagnosis. Moreover, the disparities in healthcare accessibility, particularly in rural and underserved regions, exacerbate the difficulties in detecting the disease early and providing timely treatment. The shortage of oncologists, specialized cancer treatment centers, and vital diagnostic equipment further impedes the effective management of this ailment. Cancer, it may be remembered, is a disease generally amenable to cure if detected early. Thus, any delay in diagnosis and treatment is a conspicuous harbinger of suffering and death. Many childhood blood cancers are entirely curable entities. Still, the availability of affordable children’s cancer hospitals is a necessity to achieve this aim.

Studies have shown that yoga, which includes meditation, can help relieve stress. Studies in cancer patients have shown that general debility, fatigue, and adverse effects of chemotherapy can be adequately attenuated with yoga, including meditation. Dangerous chemicals released by the cancer cell are naturally aborted by the practice of yoga, as effectively documented by multiple clinical trials. They can also improve our mood and well-being. Try to spend at least two 20 minutes daily doing meditation or other relaxation techniques. Visualization also plays an important role. For example, you can visualize being in your favorite vacation spot or a secluded, safe place like a beautiful garden. Meditation and yoga also help attenuate the relation between your aberrant emotions like anger, frustration, or stress and unhealthy biological changes that these initiate and perpetuate. In other words, they help nullify our brain and body’s catastrophic responses to stressful events.

India confronts many challenges in its efforts to combat cancer, but these difficulties are not insurmountable. By embracing a holistic approach that includes prevention, early detection, treatment, and supportive care, India can halt the rise of cancer cases and lessen the devastating impact of the disease on its citizens. At a personal level, healthy, freshly prepared food, including fruits and vegetables, and regular practice of stress busters like meditation and physical yoga play a dominant role in preventing or attenuating non-communicable diseases, including cancer. Although the journey ahead may be lengthy and demanding, through joint efforts and collective action, India can reshape its narrative from being the “cancer capital” to serving as a beacon of hope in the fight against cancer.

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