But amidst the fear, Dr Suresh Venkita, medical director at the Pacific International Hospital reminds people that there is still hope.
He says cancer is one area greatly researched even today, and there are advancements on cure and prevention, targeted specifically for before the cancer forms.
This, he says, allows for early detection, prevention as much as possible, or for diagnosis, treatment and survival of the cancer.
“We are trying to take away fear of the cancer and bring back hope and confidence,” he said.
With so much talk on cancer these days, Dr Suresh took time to explain how cancer begins, dismissing the thought that cancer begins as a big lump, as it is mostly perceived by many.
“It begins in our DNA,” he said.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA).
These genetic codes divide all the time, says Dr Suresh.
Four key types of gene are responsible for the cell division process: oncogenes tell cells when to divide, tumor suppressor genes tell cells when not to divide, suicide genes control apoptosis and tell the cell to kill itself if something goes wrong, and DNA-repair genes instruct a cell to repair damaged DNA.
Cancer occurs when a cell's gene mutations make the cell unable to correct DNA damage and unable to commit suicide.
Similarly, cancer is a result of mutations that inhibit oncogene and tumor suppressor gene function, leading to uncontrollable cell growth.
In simple terms, Dr Suresh says, one day, the code switches, generating a chain of abnormalities.
“That triggers the first growth of cancer. So cancer begins at the micro-molecular level and not as a big lump,” he explains.
Suresh says cancer cells are very unique “that even though your body is capable of always screening abnormal cells and discharging them, somehow cancer cells escape this natural defence system.”
But with the increase in knowledge through research, he said cancer can be detected at the earliest stages, in the molecular level in the DNA.
“Today, medicine is advancing every single minute. A time will come when, like HIV or TB, cancer will become a chronic disease that can be managed,” he said.
In the meantime, he urges that regular check-ups is beneficial in the long run. Those in the normal population should do check-up every 2 years, while those with cancer in the family, should check-up yearly.