Q. It is said that cancer is a sure sign of death. Is it so?

A. No. This statement is misleading. In the USA, 40 per cent to 50 per cent of all cancerous diseases are completely cured and if only early-stage cancers are considered, almost 80 per cent are cured.

Q. Has it been proved that tobacco causes cancer?

A. Yes. It has been scientifically proved that tobacco-smoking causes cancer. Tobacco (smoking as well as chewing) is not only known to produce cancer of the lungs; its association has been shown with diseases of many other organs “” the larynx (voice box), the oesophagus (food pipe), the stomach, the pancreas, the urinary bladder, the breast etc.

Q. What is passive smoking and how bad is it?

A. If a person is in an environment where tobacco smoke is present, he or she is also inhaling the tobacco smoke. This is known as passive smoking. It is apparent that the passive smoker will inhale very little as compared to the active smoker but then the inhaled tobacco smoke will definitely produce harmful effects in the passive smoker also.

Q. Is cigarette with filters safer?

A. No. Cigarette filters do not give any immunity against cancer although it is well known that cigarettes with filters produce less harm than the ordinary ones.

Q. My mother had a 3 cms-sized swelling in her breast. It was painless but it turned out to be cancerous.

A. The majority of cancer swellings are painless to start with . It is only when they develop complications or become very large in size that they give rise to pain.

Q. It is said that radiation can cause cancer and at the same time radiation is used to treat cancer. How can this be?

A. You are correct. Large doses of radiation can give rise to cancer and at the same time a rational use of radiation can suppress the growth of cancer.

Q. My father had the cancer of the large intestine. It is said that this is genetically linked. How can I protect myself from developing the cancer of the large intestine.

A. The cancer of the large intestine can be gene-linked but this is passed on to the offspring in only a small percentage of the cases. It is not possible yet to prevent the development of cancer although high-fibre and low-fat diets are supposed to be helpful in preventing the development of cancer of the large intestine. What is very important is the awareness of the problem leading to the early detection and management of cancer at an early stage.

Professor Bose is the Head of the Department of Surgery at the PGI.