Lifestyle habits that can make women more prone to breast and cervical cancer

Lifestyle habits that can make women more prone to breast and cervical cancer

The deadliest disease across the globe is increasing at a fast pace, both in India and across the globe. In 2022, India reported over 14.13 lakh new cancer cases, which accounted for 9.16 lakh deaths (as per estimates released by the World Health Organisation) and the cancer cases amongst women have outnumbered men. While women have been suffering from different forms of cancer, the most common cancer were found to be those of breast, cervix, ovary, mouth and colorectum.
It is thus crucial to understand that various factors contribute to cancer. In today’s fast-paced Indian lifestyle, unhealthy dietary choices, imbalanced living, work-life related stress, smoking are some of the prevalent causes. According to WHO, 30-40% of cancer cases can be avoided only by changing lifestyle habits. Increased awareness, informed choices, and adopting healthier habits can empower women to proactively mitigate the risk of developing different types of cancer, promoting longer and healthier lives.
Smoking: When inhaled, the smoked tobacco releases about 7,000 chemicals that can cause cellular changes and raise the risk of developing the cancer. The tandem of smoking and excessive alcohol intake is associated with an elevated risk of cancers affecting the aero-digestive tract- the lips, mouth, larynx, pharynx, throat, oesophagus and colon. It may also result in increased risks of breast, cervical, and lung cancers. In addition to endangering people’s general health, engaging in the one or both of these behaviours can increase their susceptibility to additional potential fatal illnesses.
Ignoring that chewed tobacco is a common habit among most Indians can be a common mistake. Smoked tobacco is a more recent phenomenon. The risks inherent in secondhand smoke, and third hand smoke in curtains, carpets and clothes cannot be ignored. Stubs and ash-filled ash trays are the common place overnight routines. People should consider its dissemination around the house.
Obesity: Beyond its well-known associations with diabetes and heart disease, obesity has emerged as a significant risk factor for various cancers. Although more conclusive studies are needed on this, there is no doubt that obesity is a growing concern in our society today – all thanks to the sedentary lifestyle. Fat tissue usually produces high levels of estrogen, which has been associated with breast, ovarian, endometrial in women and other types of cancers across the demography (which also includes women). The sadder part is the younger population are getting more effected by this sedentary lifestyle and while they are aware of it, most of them tend to overlook the issues.
Neglecting regular screening and check-ups: Another leading cause of cancer in India is the lack of regular screening and check-ups in the country. A sense of ennui surrounds regular screenings, followed by stigma in certain parts of the country, which results in neglect of regular screenings and even ignoring the early signs and symptoms. This is notably evident in cervical cancer, a prevalent issue amongst Indian women. Alarming NFHS-5 data indicates only 1.9% of women in India (2.2% urban, 1.7% rural) have undergone cervical cancer screening. Disparities persist, with varying rates across regions; urban women in Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Maharashtra exhibit higher screening rates, while rural women in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, and West Bengal show greater participation. Conversely, Nagaland, Ladakh, and Gujarat report nearly negligible cervical cancer screening rates, emphasizing the urgent need for a comprehensive public health policy on screening and early diagnosis. In the urban India, family members, friends and even employers should encourage the younger generation to go for regular screenings.

Lesser physical activity: Lack of physical activity, especially amongst the youth today is also leading to increased number of cancer cases. Lesser physical activity is linked to breast cancer risk in women, especially those are in the menopause phase. Increasing adoption of sedentary lifestyle like prolonged work hours, munching unhealth snacks while working, watching TV, videos and newest trend of watching reels for hours are pushing people away from doing exercises, walks. Such sedentary lifestyle is increasing cases of problems like PCOD/ PCOS, especially in younger women. Sedentary behaviour is also increasing the cancer of lungs, endometrial and colon.

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Food is good medicine. A proper, balanced diet is the best medicine & protection against most non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and coronary disease. People should think about going back to traditional home-made food, which is rich in nutrients. It is important to understand that fat and sugar-laden food is only harmful in the longer run.
(Author: Mrs. Jyostna Govil, Chairperson Indian Cancer Society, Delhi Branch)

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