Throat cancer is curable, if detected in the early stages

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Rakesh Roshan
Rakesh Roshan has early stage throat cancer Credit: Hrithik Roshan Instagram account

As actor-director Rakesh Roshan undergoes surgery for throat cancer, Medibulletin takes you through the disease

The cancer spectre has returned to Bollywood, this time with actor director Rakesh Roshan. His star son Hrithik posted a photo on social media on Tuesday to say that Roshan senior is going to undergo surgery for early stage throat cancer.

A look at the disease, its incidence in India and the prognosis of throat cancer:

What is throat cancer?

Mayo Clinic defines throat cancer as “cancerous tumors that develop in the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils”. The cancerous growth begins mostly in the cells lining the throat. That is where Roshan’s growth has been detected too. As Hrithik wrote in his post, “Asked my dad for a picture this morning. Knew he wouldnt miss gym on surgery day. He is probably the strongest man I know. Got diagnosed with early stage squamous cell carcinoma of the throat a few weeks ago, but he is in full spirits today as he proceeds to battle it. As a family we are fortunate and blessed to have a leader like him.”

What causes throat cancer?

It is a result of mutation of the cells in the throat. That can happen because of many reasons. Dr M Udaya Kumar Maiya, Medical Director, Portea Medical said: “Throat cancer commonly occurs in people who are habitual to heavy smoking and drinking. However, it can also be the result of other factors such as chewing tobacco, Human Papilloma Virus infection and an overall unhealthy lifestyle. Squamous cell carcinoma, the type that Rakesh Roshan has been diagnosed with, develops in the epithelial cells lining the throat.”

He added that men who are over 50 years of age are more susceptible to this condition. “There is a need to create awareness on the fact that timely diagnosis is extremely crucial in the treatment of throat cancer and there are about 60% chances of curing it if treatment is done on time. It is a locoregional disease and therefore surgery in combination with radiation therapy is one of the most effective treatment combinations. It is imperative to notice any prolonged symptoms such as a change in the voice or difficulty in swallowing and consult a specialist immediately. Switching to a healthier lifestyle and quitting avoidable risk factors such as smoking, and drinking are key to preventing the illness,” Dr Maiya said.

“Throat cancer commonly occurs in people who are habitual to heavy smoking and drinking. However, it can also be the result of other factors such as chewing tobacco, Human Papilloma Virus infection and an overall unhealthy lifestyle”

How common is throat cancer in India?

It is one of the less common forms of cancer in the country. A 2015 article in the Indian Journal of Paediatric and Medical Oncology said: “In India, laryngeal cancer contributes to approximately 3-6% of all cancers in men. The age-adjusted incidence rate of cancer larynx in males varies widely among registries, highest is 8.18 per 100,000 in Kamprup Urban District and the lowest is 1.26 per 100,000 in Nagaland. The 5-year survival for laryngeal cancer in India is approximately 28%. Indian studies show tobacco, alcohol, long-term exposure to indoor air pollution, spicy food, and non-vegetarian diet as risk factors for laryngeal cancer.”

What is the prognosis of throat cancer patients?

The disease, if detected early can be cured. Says Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India: “”wever, it can be treated and cured if diagnosed on time. There is a need to create awareness on adopting the harm reduction methodology to prevent non-communicable diseases such as cancer. Harm reduction accepts that some individuals are unwilling or averse to the idea of quitting risky health behaviors such as smoking or alcohol. It focuses on reducing the associated harm by switching to less harmful alternatives rather than pressurizing these individuals to abide by total abstinence. Apart from this, it is also important to switch to a healthier lifestyle including eating a balanced diet, getting regular physical activity, cancer preventive vaccines and avoiding stress through techniques such as meditation and yoga.”