Most discussions about cancer in the Indian media and elsewhere begin with the numbers: 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year, almost 880,000 deaths in different parts of the country. This also means that slightly under half of all Indians diagnosed with cancer every year, do live beyond five years after the diagnosis. But mere numbers do not convey the real triumph in the multifaceted battle against cancer. The truly remarkable achievement is reflected not just in the growing number of survivors that we see around us in offices, clubs and our own neighbourhoods; but also in the candour with which they accept they have survived a bout of cancer.
But the triumph is far from complete. Far too many people still succumb to cancer, often in the peak of their lives, leaving behind young children and even elderly parents. The main reason for their lives coming to a premature end is invariably that the cancer is often detected when it has already invaded many surrounding tissues, and is therefore that much harder to treat.
The main challenge before physicians responsible for cancer care is to spot the early signs and take pre-emptive action. Symptoms of most forms of cancer often overlap with those of many other diseases. Jaundice, for example, might point at something as benign as a liver infection (hepatitis) or as dangerous as pancreatic cancer (in which less than 20 percent survive beyond 12 months). Likewise, a persistent cough could be on account of a chronic