What is cancer? Are there safe treatments for this? Where and when available?

  • Dr. Sec. Anbuchelvan
  • Scientist, Britain

2 hours ago


(BBC Tamil publishes articles on the 1st and 15th of every month on scientific and technological new information and perspectives, which are the main reason for the evolution of human development, from the point of view of Tamil experts from all over the world. This is the nineteenth article of the series. All the opinions in this article are the author’s own opinion. These are not the opinions of BBC Tamil. .- the author)

It is rare to be born as a human being and to be born, live and die without disease. Whether we worry about our future everyday or not, there is no one who does not remember that we should not get any disease, especially life-killing diseases like cancer.

After heart disease, cancer is the most common human disease in the world. We have come to a stage where cancer is somewhere and for anyone, and today we doubt whether there are any cancer-free villages in India. In the year 2021 alone, the number of cancer patients was two crore seventy three lakh and will approach three crore in the coming year 2025.

Cancer affects one in 15 people in India

To put it more clearly, in India alone, one in every 15 people has cancer. But in a country with a population of more than 130 crores, there are less than seventy hospitals (with modern cancer treatment facilities), according to a report by the National Cancer Grid. That’s why even though all Indian metropolitan cancer hospitals are overflowing, one cannot help but wonder if everyone is being treated.

However, the truth is that there is not enough awareness among us about these intractable killer cancers and their symptoms or methods of early detection. It should not be said in general that only uneducated lay people do not know about cancer. Kerala, Delhi, and Tamil Nadu, which have 95.2, 87.33, and 77.9% literate women respectively, have the highest prevalence of breast cancer.

Moreover, according to a 2018 study, the number of deaths due to breast cancer in India is 23% compared to worldwide. (Estimated Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence Worldwide in 2012. 2012. v1.0 (IARC CancerBase No. 11)) In India alone, every ten minutes two women are diagnosed with breast cancer and one of them is diagnosed with advanced stage and one in two dies. In other words, 23.3% of women die of cervical cancer in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in India. (Lancet Oncol, 15 (6) (2014), pp. e223).

Be that as it may, 1 in 68 Indian men have lung cancer due to tobacco use. (JCO Global Oncology no. 6 (2020) pp-1063). Many people are smokers after reading the slogan ‘Smoke is our enemy’. Therefore, this article talks about the studies that the scientific world is taking today to classify and eradicate cancers. So I am trying to make many of us aware of the illness.

Malignant and Benign

Cancer is a disease in which certain types of cells in the body grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can develop anywhere in the human body made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and then form new cells needed by the body through the process of ‘cell division’. As the cells formed in this way gradually mature or degenerate and die, new cells are formed in their place. Science calls this Apoptosis (Programmed Cell Death). Thus the human body is alive because of the continuous (chain) of systemic decay. This can also be said in the words of Thirumool, ‘Udambai varkuthen vayo varkutene’.


Sometimes (due to many factors) this normal cycle of cell death is broken and thousands of cells can proliferate where only one cell should have appeared. Thus, cells that proliferate without limit are called Tumours. These are also classified as Malignant or Benign.

Cancers that proliferate as described above (due to insufficient space) spread, or invade, into nearby tissue. In addition, it can spread to different parts of the body (organs) to form more new tumors. Thus, the cancer which is formed in one organ and moves towards another organ of the body (Invasive) is called the most complete or malignant stage (Metastasis).

But if tumors form in an organ, they do not spread to nearby tissues, or invade. If surgically removed, these usually do not grow back. Whereas cysts can sometimes be quite large in size and can cause some serious symptoms. In particular, brain tumors can cause damage to functions such as eyesight and memory.

Solid and Liquid Tumors

Generally, tumors can be classified as Solid Tumors and Liquid Tumors based on their origin. Carcinoma is the type of tumor that develops in organs with slightly hard cells such as bone, breast, lung, spleen, etc., and those that appear in the muscles, bone membranes, lipid layer and blood vessel walls that are slightly thin or connective tissue are called Sarcoma type of tumor.

In addition, tumors formed in physiological fluids such as blood, bone marrow, and lymph are also called lymphadenopathy (blood tumor – Leukemia, bone marrow tumor – Myeloma and lymph node tumor – Lymphoma).

Cancer types

As mentioned above, medical science classifies cancers based on their origin and says that there are more than 200 types of cancer. That is, even if two different men (and women) have cancer in the same organ, it is not necessarily the same type of cancer.

That is, cancer cells are classified according to their origin, their external and internal forms, and the nature of the biochemicals they secrete or absorb. For example, we would have thought that breast cancer in women is the same for everyone. However, ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, inflammatory and metastatic breast cancer are divided into four types. Among these four types of breast cancer, today’s cancer science has discovered that there are more than eighty types of breast cancer cells.


image source, Getty Images

“Mesothelioma” is one of the most common rare cancers in India. It is a cancer that develops in the lungs, abdomen and heart due to consumption of asbestos used in constructions, roofs and industries. This type of cancer is often caused by occupational exposure. Globally, in most of the countries, the use of acebubesudazu is banned, but in India its use in industries/homes as roofing, pantaloons and consumption by the working people seems to have not decreased.

Additionally, medical statistics show that a person diagnosed with mesothelioma does not survive more than a year. However, a cure for this disease is yet to be found. Therefore, people can be saved only by creating awareness about this disease and banning the use of acetaminophen completely.

Cancer medication

Cancer research

image source, Getty Images

All over the world, thousands of researchers and doctors are spending tens of billions of dollars in cancer research. However, because of the above reasons, treating cancer is not easy. So, you can count on your fingers the number of cancer drugs that have been discovered since the last century. In particular, most of the drugs used in chemotherapy (Chemotherapy) destroy cancer cells as well as good cells, so hair and nail cells that grow rapidly like cancer cells are inevitable side effects. However, following this, patients are forced to refuse chemotherapy due to serious side effects such as allergies, vomiting, decreased blood production, weakness, loss of appetite, memory loss, and death. Therefore, scientists are trying to develop drugs that do not have the above drawbacks or have less serious side effects, which attack and destroy only the cancer cells while leaving the good cells. Over the past decade, due to the efforts of scientists, new types of drugs known as Antibody Drug Conjugates that attack only cancer cells have come into use.


Before knowing about these types of drugs, let’s know about Monoclonal Antibody. A monoclonal antibody is a type of protein that is isolated from cancer cells in a laboratory environment (by cloning). Anticancer drugs are attached to a specific region of these proteins to kill cancer cells.

Thus, when the drug-bound protein is injected into a cancer patient’s body, it travels directly back to the same cancer cells. That is, because these types of proteins are extracted from the cancer cells themselves, the antibody will only target those cancer cells. The drug combined with the protein easily enters the cancer cells and destroys the cells by DNA destruction, mutation and other methods. As a result, fewer good cells are destroyed, resulting in fewer side effects.


image source, Getty Images

Since 2015, the life expectancy of various cancer patients has increased by five to ten years since 2015, as approximately eleven anticancer drug combinations have become available to date. In addition, more than eighty antiviral compounds are in late clinical trials.

Recently, fourteen patients suffering from rectal cancer in the United States of America (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA) were administered the anti-inflammatory drug combination dostarlimab-gxly (for trial). (N. Engl. J. Med. 2022, 386, pp 2363; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2201445). In this trial, all fourteen patients had 100% recovery from rectal cancer. This is a major breakthrough in cancer pharmacology and has given scientists the hope that different types of cancer can be treated with anti-cancer drugs. Therefore, it can be expected that within the next 15 to 20 years, drugs will be found for most cancers and cancer can be eradicated.

(Dr. S. Anbuchelvan was born in Devanurputur near Udumalai, Tirupur District. Chennai. In the university PhD in Biochemistry and postdoctoral work in cancer pharmacology and MRI chemistry at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Portugal-Elizabeth, UK-Birmingham and Hull. He is a Marie-Curie Multidisciplinary Research Awardee from the European Commission and currently works as a Scientist in Antibody Drug Conjugate Cancer Therapeutics in the UK.)

Produced by Sairam Jayaraman, BBC Tamil

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