The next time you drape a sari, you might want to re-tie that petticoat knot. According to an article in the November issue of the Journal of the Indian Medical Association, doctors at Grant Medical College in Mumbai have reported cases of what they are referring to as sari cancer.
"We have treated three women for waist or sari cancer in the last couple of years," says author of the article Dr G D Bakhshi, who is an associate professor of surgery at Grant. He authored the piece with colleagues Dr Ashok D Borisa and Dr Mukund B Tayade. While two of the patients diagnosed a couple of years ago are mentioned in the article, the third was detected just three months ago. All the women were above the age of 40.
"The sari petticoat, if tied in the same place day after day, can cause chronic irritation along the waistline," says the report. "The constant irritation can result in scaling or pigmentation. But most sari-wearers don't notice it until it gets chronic," says Dr Bakhshi.
He adds that women need to be cautious because waist dermatoses can turn malignant as it did in the case of the three women treated at GMC.
Dr Bakhshi advises sariwearers to tie their petticoats looser or switch from the usual rope-like belt to broader ones that reduce pressure on the area. He also suggests that they keep changing the level at which they tie saris. "This kind of cancer does not really affect those wearing pants or belts because the pressure is spread over a larger area, unlike in the case of a petticoat nada or string," he says.
Treatment depends on the stage at which the cancer has been diagnosed. "If detected early, it can be treated with reconstructive surgery. But if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes then we need to remove the malignancy," says Dr Bakhshi. He adds that if detected early the cancer is curable.
Chennai-based dermatologist Dr Maya Vedamurthy says that around 3% of sari-wearers who come to her have waist dermatoses but she has not seen any cases where it has turned malignant. "The moment I notice it, I tell the patient to start wearing the nada a little looser or switch to a broader string," she says.
Like sari cancer, there are several lifestyle-related cancers that are increasingly being seen in India, such as breast, ovarian and tobacco-related cancers. "There are many types of tobacco-related cancers from lung and stomach to bladder and pancreatic. The cancer is also lifestyle-related, caused by smoking as well as increased levels of pollution in the environment," says Dr T Rajkumar, professor and head of molecular oncology, Cancer Institute, Adyar.
He says breast and ovarian cancer have similar lifestylerelated causes such as late childbirth, lack of exercise, and breastfeeding on the decline. "Working women tend to postpone the age at which they have their first child and going beyond 30 is risky. With ovarian cancer, risk factors include early menarche and late menopause," he says. Dr Rajkumar adds that colonic cancer, which is related to a low-fibre diet, is also on the rise world over.