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“A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise and healthy food intake can go a big way in reducing the risk”

Dr. Ashish Bakshi is an experienced Oncologist practicing in Hiranandani hospital. He received his DM in Medical Oncology from Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai an apex institute in the country for cancer. He is an expert in performing routine procedures (e.g. central venous access, lumbar puncture, administration of intrathecal drugs, bone marrow aspiration, ascitic and pleural tapping) and dealing with both related as well as unrelated hematopoietic stem cell transplants. He is trained in ICH-GCP guidelines and am proficient in conduct of clinical trials. Dr. Bakshi has many national and international publications to his credit. Recently My Powai spoke to him about the dreaded disease, do’s & don’ts and ways to pick the symptoms early. Excerpts:
Tell us a little bit about yourself starting from your school days till you became a doctor?
I was born and brought up in Nagpur where I did my schooling and later did my MBBS and MD in Medicine from Government Medical College & Hospital, Nagpur. Subsequently I did my superspecialization (D.M.) in Medical Oncology from Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. From 2004-2008, I worked there as a Faculty. After that I joined Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital and have been working here since then.

What made you choose Oncology as your area of specialization? 
While I was doing my MD MEDICINE , we had two children who were admitted with Acute Leukemia (Blood Cancer). We treated them with our best available resources at that time but unfortunately could not save them. These incidents motivated me to move toward cancer treatment and research.

In the recent past, there has been a spike in cancer cases. What is the reason for it?
Cancer is a lifestyle disease. A significant number of cancers that we see are related to tobacco and alcohol. Intake of junk food, obesity, lack of exercise are also contributing to the increasing incidence. Moreover cancer is a largely a disease of the elderly. So as life expectancy in India has increased, we are seeing more and more of this disease. 

Is it true that cancer cells reside in a dormant state in every person and strikes a few?
Normally the human body has a mechanism to get rid of cells that are mutated, damaged or defective. When the body’s defense mechanisms are unable to get rid of such abnormal cells, cancers can develop. 

Most annual health packages don’t include cancer checks. Can you tell us the checks required to screen for cancer?
Different institutions and laboratories offer different types of health packages and these can be customized to suit the needs of the patient and society. Certain blood markers (called as tumor markers) may hint towards the possibility of certain cancers like ovarian, prostate, colon and liver cancers. However their efficacy to detect cancer in the general population is limited. Hence these tests should be done in consultation with the physician. Mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early in risk individuals. Similarly I would encourage women to do PAP smear examination at periodic intervals in consultation with their gynaecologist.

l No tobacco in any   form
l No unsafe sex
l Do not drink often
l No expose to intense sunlight
l Avoid spicy, fried, preserved and junk food

l Exercise regularly
l Reduce stress
l Eat plenty of Fruits & Vegetables
l Maintain healthy weight
l Routine Physical Examination
l Be cancer aware

What are the do’s and don’t s to prevent cancer?
A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise and healthy food intake can go a big way in reducing the risk of cancer. Certain cancers like liver cancer due to Hepatitis B and Cervical cancer are potentially vaccine preventable and vaccination for these viruses should be encouraged.

How far has science progressed in its fight against cancer?
We have made significant progress against cancer in the last few years. A variety of treatment options are available to control and cure cancer (when possible) including surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and a range of biological therapies. The treatments today are aimed to be more and more precise and less toxic. Although these therapies have made it possible to improve the outcome of a large majority of cancer patients, metastatic disease is still largely incurable. Therefore early detection of cancer is of paramount importance. 

Describe your normal day and weekend routine? What are your hobbies?
The most difficult part of being a doctor is that it is a 24X7 job. On a typical weekday , work starts as soon as you get up first by answering to the patient and hospital messages and phone calls and this continues till you reach hospital. As I reach hospital, I see the patients who are admitted under my care. We have to calculate precise chemotherapy doses, counsel patients and their family and update them about patients’ health. Subsequently I start my outpatient consultation that goes on for three to four hours. We also have to perform certain diagnostic and therapeutic procedures like bone morrow aspiration and biopsy and intrathecal chemotherapy which I usually perform after the OPD. 

As such weekends don't exist as we have to see the patients on all seven days of the week. However on Sundays since OPDs are closed we take rounds and then spend the remaining Sunday time to catch up with family and friends. In leisure time, I like listening to music and reading books.

Any advice to My Powai readers?
Stay fit and worship your body as a temple. Stay away from addictions. Don't be shy in reporting your symptoms to the doctor. Cancer is potentially curable if detected early.

CAUTION - warning signs of Cancer
l Change in bowel or bladder habits
l A sore that does not heal
l Unusual bleeding or discharge
l Thickening/lump in breast or elsewhere
l Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
l Obvious change in wart or mole
l Nagging cough or hoarseness

                                                                                                                      - Dr. Ashish Bakshi