Cancer doesn’t spread in days, Corona does


A couple of weeks before the  lockdown, Parul, a 45 year old homemaker consulted me.  She and her husband went for a medical check-up.  She had no symptoms. She was shocked when Ultrasonologist found that she had a mass in her stomach.  Immediately she rushed to me.  It was a peculiar tumour arising from the stomach.  The most common such tumour is  GIST. I assured her that this normally responds to an oral tablet.

Then, as we were investigating, getting biopsies done, we crossed the Sunday Janata curfew followed by the lockdown.

Her histopathology report came while we were in lockdown .   She did not have GIST as I predicted but a different type of tumour. She needed surgery!

Obviously her big question was what would happen in these 3 weeks  under lockdown.

I had a video consultation with her. The conversation went like this:

“Doctor, You told me that I just have to take a tablet, but now recommending surgery ! “

“From day one I wanted surgery immediately as the tumour can keep growing right !”

( I have be honest and agree )

“ Parul, you are right, I did tell you. I was hoping that you would have a lesser option.”

“The pathology shows that it is a very slow growing tumour and has been detected without any symptoms.  Perhaps even if you had waited for the next 1-2 months also it would have not grown big and certainly will not spread”

It is very stressful for a patient diagnosed with cancer to be told to wait.  We all have this feeling that cancer cells multiply quickly and will spread.  This is certainly NOT true.  In fact, cancer cells multiply in weeks and sometimes in months.  This is a common cause for panic..

Can you guess how long a colon cancer will take to spread locally, leave alone spread to the other organs?   It is expected to take at least 4 months to involve ½ a circumference of the colon.  Most of the patients have symptoms for more than 6 months before they come to the doctor. In fact, most of the patients in busy centres wait a couple of months without any adverse impact.

Parul was not particularly convinced, so I offered that I can give her a declaration on a stamp paper that her tumour will not progress in these 3 weeks!

Finally she smiled and accepted.

I do have patients like Parul, who are scheduled for surgery immediately after the lockdown is lifted. Like them, I am waiting to operate and treat cancers.

Till then, I want to tell all not to worry that cancer will be spreading in three weeks.  Cancer cells certainly do not spread as fast as the corona virus which seems to be spreading exponentially at this point of time and poses huge threat to all of us.

Stay home and Stay healthy


Life is beautiful but the ‘second chance’ should be a remarkable journey


Here is a true inspirational story.

Last week I operated on Nimi for the 3rd time. She insisted that I use her name as she is not worried or scared.   She had undergone 8 surgeries since 2009 in different places including MD Anderson centre earlier. Yes, her morale should have been down and she should have been depressed and dejected. On the contrary she is full of life and keeps joking about her “unwelcome friend’. She has recovered well and rearing to get on with her life in full speed. God bless.

I had a chat with her after a major surgery nearly 4 years ago when we removed a huge mass.

She recovered well from the surgery and said “Doc, you have given me a second chance”.

I said, “It is not me but God who has given you a second chance but this ‘second chance’ should be used to lead a wonderful life”.  That statement seems to have stuck with her because she not only got back with vigour to her career but also enjoyed many trips abroad living life to the fullest.

There are many such remarkable men and women who not only beat cancer but also enjoy their lives without brooding continuously.

Thre is no doubt that positive attitude helps tremendously to cope with cancer and as a matter of fact any adversity. Be it chemotherapy or radiotherapy, its all about the will power. Fortunately we have a great family support system.

But more than any thing “ when you defeat fear, you defeat cancer’.

When I see such people I really feel that none of us have any cause to complain about the bad roads, monsoons and all the so called problems we face in our daily life. The biggest lesson from these patients is ‘Big C can not only be conquered but can be defeated with resounding success’.

The ‘second chance’ should be looked upon as a blessing to lead a remarkable life.

Another love story and cancer, but genders reversed


This also is a true story.

Also about a young couple.

Five years ago Tanisha, a pretty young girl, around 22 , an airhostess in Indigo airlines, came to me. She had a recent diagnosis of cancer of the colon but otherwise in good health.

Her boyfriend who came with her was very anxious and said, “We want to do everything possible for her, she is so precious”.

I said, “Certainly, we will do whatever best we can for her ”.

They were engaged to get married. She underwent surgery and he was waiting outside.

“Everything okay doc?”

I said, “All went well, she has no metastasis, so she will do well. Histopathology showed lymphnode positive so she has to undergo chemotherapy”.

When I mentioned chemotherapy she was a bit low and said, “Will I have hair fall?”

“May be but these drugs may not produce hair fall and that will be temporary.”

He said, “Can she bear children?” I said, “My friend, at this point of time her life is important, not procreation. But , we can preserve her ova for child bearing in future.”

She accepted all this with a smile and started undergoing chemotherapy. He was there for 1-2 cycles. After that I did not find him and her sister used to accompany her.

Then I asked, “Where is your fiancé?”

She gave a sad smile and said, “He broke the engagement.”

“Why? I thought he was very committed to you.”

She said, “His family was not in favour.”

I said, “But he could have had the guts to stand by you.”

There was no answer.

She completed 12 cycles of chemotherapy and after a couple of years of follow up, used to come occasionally. When she came last, she was her bouncing self and said, “Doctor, you know, I am flying Emirates and am so happy that I am able to see the whole world. Whatever happens, happens for good. Now I know who are my real support and who love me dearly.”

I said, “Of course, adversity shows you, your true friends.”

“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.” John Collins
ManjuV asked on twitter “what happens on reversal of genders”.

“This actually happened when a girl is the victim. Perhaps some men are selfish and will not hesitate to abandon a woman.”



Can ‘love’ defeat Cancer?


This is a true story.

A true story of a young boy and a girl.

Karan, a young man, around 25, was very happy that he got selected after passing through a highly competitive examination and  joined his MBA Course at IIM Kolkata.

Suddenly he noticed blood in stools. His happy world turned upside down !

He was shocked when he was diagnosed as Cancer of Rectum. Very unusual to happen at this young age, particularly when there was no family history. After evaluation we suggested that he undergo Chemotherapy and Radiation first, followed by surgery.

He was very brave. Accordingly he followed all instructions. He had chemotherapy and radiation and came back for evaluation 3 months later. The tumour had regressed significantly but, in his case, as it was very close to the anal verge I had suggested surgery with a ‘permanent colostomy’.     Permanent colostomy at such a young age is certainly not easily acceptable.

He used to come with his fiancée. Obviously there was also a factor of a long term relationship.

At one point of time they talked to me together saying “what about us getting married?’’. I said, “ See, at this point of time I would advise you against marriage because  you are still on treatment” and the matter was pushed to the background.

So he said he would rather take more chemotherapy and avoid surgery if possible. He went back to Kolkata but after a month came back saying that doctors in Kolkata have convinced him that chemotherapy is not a good option and he should undergo surgery. He was then prepared for having a permanent stoma. His fiancee was fine with him having a stoma. Anything to save his life!

The surgery was uneventful, he had a stoma, everything was going fine.

He was  later taking chemotherapy at Kolkata, coming and seeing me for followup.

His fiancee would always accompany him and had an anxious look at each followup. With the help of her and friends and he completed his MBA and came to me smiling saying that he has an MBA and also a job offer.

He asked me, “Can I do a job ?”.

I said, “Of course, you can do a job”. “I can certify and even put in a word for you”

I knew he wanted to plan a start up.  “What happens to your start up?”.

He said that at this point a job is better for him for stability.

However, unfortunately, this young man had a recurrence and he was put on further chemotherapy which was pretty toxic to him. I gave him a certificate that he could do a job but as bad luck would have it, his condition did not improve and he went on from 1st line of chemotherapy to 2nd line of chemotherapy with more toxicity.

All the while he and his fiancée were always together supporting each other and it was really touching to see a young lady, knowing fully well how the boy’s condition is shaping up, is willing to give him all the support and all the love that he needed.

They had researched all over and found that there was some kind of therapy  in the USA and were wanting to go there. So all the necessary formalities were done. They were all set to go  but they came and met me just a couple of days ago.

Yes, there was uncertainty and apprehension in his voice. But she as usual was very supportive.

She showed me proudly and said “ Two weeks ago we decided to get married and this is my mangalsutra”. I was completely astounded at this girl’s courage and love for someone who is probably has limited options, leave alone live normally.

Then she asked me, “Doctor, can love defeat cancer?”

I was dumbstruck as I really did not have any clear answer but I did not want to take away the last flicker of hope from them.

“Who knows? May be  love can control cancer and let’s hope for the best”.

God bless those who have such unconditional love and those willing to fight with all courage inspite of adversity.

Toilet ki ek aur katha- Personal hygiene and Prevention of Cervical cancer

I am so glad that ‘toilets’ are receiving the importance thanks to the movie ‘toilet ki ek prem katha’. Here ‘s the reason why toilets should be demanded by every lady !

Cervical Cancer incidence and mortality is decreasing steadily.

However most of the reduction happened in the developed countries as this graph shows.(GLOBOCAN)

All this happened even before HPV vaccine was introduced . Even pap smear screening was not total in some countries.

How did this happen?

Its clear that improved personal hygiene due to access to toilets with privacy was an important factor . Personal genital hygiene in both men and women can reduce cervical cancer.

Just compare with the countries with least number of toilets per capita ( WHO/UNICEF)


All  in the areas with high cervical cancer.

Of course there are other factors like unprotected sexual activity and HPV does spread due to poor habits. There was a nice study way back in 1999 from Kerala, in a survey based in Trivandrum centre,  that highlighted the correlation of cervical dysplasia to  lack of access to hygiene with toilets, sanitary napkins etc .

Expensive vaccines and even more expensive population screening are not suitable for large rural populations like India and Africa.

The fact however is that the rural and urban poor ARE AWARE of the ill effects of poor hygiene but have no access to clean toilets

That’s a preventable tragedy!

Its time for action !! It’s time this basic need is ensured in every household

Conflict of interest:

I know Akshay Kumar but was neither influenced or approached to write. The  thought developed for sometime in discussion with Dr Anita Borges.

A B C of Hepatitis


28th July is declared as ‘World Hepatitis Day’.  I thought I will share some information with you to help and prevent major illness affecting the liver causing nearly 1 million deaths annually world wide.

Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver.   There are Hepatitis viruses A,B,C,D,E, but the most relevant are A, B & C.

Hepatitis A is relatively an innocuous viral infection, normally spreads by contamination of food and water and can be prevented by good hygiene. Nearly 1.4 million people across world get Hepatitis A.  Many of us including me, had mild jaundice in childhood and in a week’s time cleared off.  The infection occuring once, provides immunity for the rest of our life.  Hepatitis A vaccination is available and if one member of family has Hepatitis A, then others can take vaccine. Good hygiene and sanitation are most effective measures for  prevention.

Hepatitis B, on the other hand is a much more sinister virus.  More than 240 million people have chronic (long-term) liver infections. About 600 000 people die every year due to the acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B.

This is actually a preventable disease.  Now an effective vaccine is available and  has been made mandatory as part of immunization program for neonates.  But in earlier days it was not mandatory.  You may not be sure whether you had Hepatitis B immunization in your childhood and it is worthwhile particularly if you are active and are likely to sustain some injury etc., to go in for a booster dose of Hepatitis B.

The biggest risk is that Hepatitis B spreads by body fluids through skin and mucosal injuries just like the AIDS virus but it is nearly 50 times more resistant than AIDS virus.  In fact, the AIDS virus is a very fragile virus which can just die on drying up.  But Hepatitis B, on the other hand, can stay on in moist surfaces for a period of atleast a week.  That is a big risk. There are so many places that can lead to spread- hospitals, clinics, unsafe sex, sex workers etc.

Hepatitis B virus does not enter through intact skin or mucus but if there is injury, there is all the more reason that you need to have protection.  Also when you go in for a procedure, you have to insist on the healthcare worker on wearing gloves while handling your wound or doing any examination.  Blood, body fluids, contaminated needles, unnatural sex are high risk factors for Hepatitis B.

So the best way to prevent is  vaccination or booster dose appropriately.

Please vaccinate the newborn and if you don’t know your immunization status, take a booster.

Hepatitis B, once it enters, can linger on in the liver and can be detected by a blood test called HBsAg.  So in case an adult gets jaundice and it clears off, it is definitely both Hepatitis B and C infections are to be tested for.

Sequelae of Hepatitis B: What happens to Hepatitis B or C when they infect the liver ? They produce cell necrosis.   When the liver cells die, there is always scarring, just like a scar forms after a wound on the skin.   The repeated internal scarring produces  ‘fibrosis or cirrhosis’ of the liver.  The liver becomes firm and fibrotic.  This takes a long time of may be even 10 years and can be detected. Nowadays cirrhosis can be easily picked up by Scans including CT, Ultrasound or Fibro Scan and one can limit the progress of the cirrhosis.

liver image

Liver Cancer The big risk of Hepatitis B & C viruses unfortunately is development of liver tumors.  Given enough time, at least a third of them develop liver cancer ,which are aggressive involving a large part of the liver.

Unlike kidneys, liver is a single large organ, a huge organ of the body to metabolize all the nutrients, drugs, etc.  So nearly 80% of the liver has to be damaged before there are any signs outside and that is a big reason why most liver diseases are silent and can only be detected much later when the damage is extensive.  So it is very very important for us to make sure that we undergo appropriate diagnostic measures to identify them in the early stage.

Hepatitis C also has a similar mode of transmission as Hepatitis B.  The most unfortunate thing however, is that Hepatitis C has no vaccine so far developed though there have been attempts on that.  But Hepatitis C has effective treatment.

Recently, a rich philanthropist who has been harboring Hepatitis C virus almost 30 years came to me with cirrhosis and liver cancer. Many told him that Hepatitis C has no treatment.  Fortunately it is not true.  Hepatitis C has effective treatment now  and should be treated.  This will prevent further progression into cirrhosis and liver  tumours and also chronic liver disease.

In brief, therefore, Hepatitis A is self-limiting, Hepatitis B is preventable and Hepatitis C is treatable.  So it is all good news for you – provided you take adequate care in your life.

WHO fact sheet on Hepatitis :

Angelina starts an Anxiety wave – Is it warranted? The scientific facts to ‘fight fear of genes’

Sharmila works in our bank as a Relationship Manager. She is a bubbly and cheerful girl around 30 and recently married.

The other day she came to me, panic written all over her face.

“Doctor, I am terrified!!” she said and burst into tears.

I said “Why don’t you just relax and tell me what’s bothering you so much?”

“Doctor, my mother had breast cancer and now I am really scared that I have to undergo bilateral mastectomy (removal of both my breasts) and have implants done to reduce my risk.

Can you recommend someone??!!”

I was taken aback!  I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, now why do you have to do this?”

She said, “Angelina Jolie has declared, that’s how she has reduced her risk and I do not know where to get this genetic testing done”

What kind of panic and anxiety must be triggered amongst millions of women across the world by this dramatic revelation of a Hollywood star?

Of course, she has done this with the faith that one has to be cautions (let’s assume that her PR exercise story is not true!)

I thought I would do a bit of research and give the facts to Sharmila and many other ladies who are possibly equally frightened and anxious because of this piece of news.

Is Cancer hereditary?  Particularly is breast cancer hereditary? And are extreme measures like a bilateral mastectomy necessary? If so in whom ?

Let’s get into a bit of science on the rogue genes – BRCA1 and BRCA 2.

They were first identified in families with breast cancer.

If just one relative has breast cancer and it is NOT a familial or hereditary breast cancer. So just a family history of breast cancer does not mean there are inheritable abnormal genes increasing risk of breast cancer

I asked Sharmila, “Apart from your mother does any one in your family have breast cancer?”

She said, “I think my husband’s aunt had some breast problem”

“No No, your relatives by blood line like your mother, maternal grand mother, sisters, maternal aunts etc.”

Sharmila said, “No, I don’t think so”

“Good, then you are NOT in the super high-risk group of hereditary breast cancer. So don’t worry.”

When we look at the scientific data, there are 3 groups of women:

  1. Familial breast cancer – Familial or Hereditary breast cancer or breast ovarian cancer syndrome are defined as those families with 3-4 cases of breast +/- ovarian cancer across two generations.  In these patients also, the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are not always responsible.  52% of such cases are due to BRCA1 and 35% are due to BRCA2 and the remaining are due to other genes.

This is the group where testing would be appropriate if ‘they wish to’. If you don’t carry a mutation you can avoid intense surveillance like 6 monthly tests.

However, the problem is, finding a BRCA1 /2 does not mean that you DO get breast Cancer.

The problem of ‘gene expression’ and ‘penetrance’ compound the issue. Not all genes express and produce cancer. But, once you know that you carry the gene, the panic starts. Proportion of breast cancer cases in the general population due to BRCA1 is 5.3% below age 40 years, 2.2% between ages 40 and 49

As doctors we need to be cautious in not triggering anxiety attacks and many have opted out of gene testing and rightly so.

2. The 2nd group consists of those who are diagnosed as having breast cancer.

What is the impact of genetic testing and is it mandatory to do genetic testing?

Not necessary at all.  The reason is that a random genetic testing for any cancer would not really show a mutation.

Fundamentally there are 2 types of cancers (1) Familial or Hereditary (related to abnormalities in genes) and (2) Sporadic or a random occurrence of the disease.

Sporadic or random occurrence of the disease is most common (90-95%) and may not be associated with any gene mutation.  The easiest way to identify a genetic mutation causing hereditary cancer is that the family should have more than 3 to 4 members having the disease.

So even those patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer, unless there is a strong family history, need not panic into a genetic testing routinely.

3. The third group consists of those who have relatives diagnosed with breast cancer.

They have absolutely NO need for genetic testing unless there is a strong family history like group one or certain communities. Most – nearly 95% fall in this category.

I assured Sharmila, “you may have a relative just diagnosed with cancer or treated for cancer but there is absolutely no need to panic.” There is 5-10 % increase in incidence  due to family history . As you are now aware and likely to go for screening periodically, rest assured you will be SAFE.

I think Angelina Jolie has caused more anxiety than help to women.  Indeed in a sporadic mutation responsible for 95% of breast cancer, the risk is overstated and certainly does not warranty bilateral mastectomy in a young age.  In fact the risk in BRCA 2 is 29% by 50 years of age and 88% by 70 years!! BRCA1 carries a higher risk.

There is always risk in life. There is risk in life of not only relating to cancer but also to cardiac and other illnesses. Every organ can have malignancy.  Does it mean that one should sacrifice all the organs? Or worst still, have all the genes allegedly responsible for all diseases tested? Is there a simpler way of managing?

How is Angelina going to manage the risk of ovarian cancer? Her ovaries are still preserved!!

The best way is obviously a more intensive screening of those at high risk rather than putting them to genetic testing. And for all you know if only 52% of the familial cancers  had BRCA1 mutation and the rest did not have BRCA1 mutation  The presence of genetic mutations do not always manifest in “C” in every individual.  There has to be some caution but definitely don’t rush into something as traumatic as bilateral breast removal with its attendant risks and problems.

One has to realize that science is never perfect and new knowledge may be totally different from existing information.

Sharmila smiled, convinced that panic is the last reaction in fighting the Big C.

So defeat your fear and you can prevent cancer, particularly breast cancer.

She was curious to know about the genes and cancer. And I promised that I would talk on “Cancer” and “what is the role of genes”.

My take:

I personally don’t think Angelina did this as a PR exercise. It’s too traumatic and risky to undergo prophylactic bilateral mastectomy for publicity. Not for her any way. So many have undergone bilateral mastectomy and kept quiet.

But the timing should have been better to avoid a controversy on the pending legal issue on patenting BRCA1/2 genes. I do hope there was no hidden agenda. Certainly she should not promote genetic testing for all those with a relative.

Patenting genes is ridiculous. Hope U.S Supreme Court takes the right decision.


1.Estimates of the gene frequency of BRCA1 and its contribution to breast and ovarian cancer incidence.  D FordD F Easton, and J Peto, Am J Hum Genet. 1995 December; 57(6): 1457–1462.

2.Genetic testing for familial/hereditary breast cancer—comparison of guidelines and recommendations from the UK, France, the Netherlands and Germany D. Gadzicki & D. G Evans& H Harris et al: J Community Genet (2011) 2:53–69