More often than not it is not cancer but the stigma surrounding the disease that leaves patients distraught. From broken marriages to social ostracism, people are often ill-treated after being diagnosed with cancer, often forcing them to refuse treatment.
The theme for World Cancer Day, to be celebrated today, is to dispel myths and impart knowledge about the disease.
Most people detected with cancer believe they will soon die, said doctors and social workers who deal with patients.
A 2011 study at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), Parel, showed that about 20% of parents did not allow their children to be treated for cancer.
Shalini Jatia, who conducted the study, said that options of treatment were often rejected by parents. For example, if a girl needed to undergo an amputation, many parents prefer to resort to alternate therapies on grounds she may not find a groom.
"One of the reasons identified was illiteracy, coupled with the belief that cancer is incurable," said Dr Shripad Banavali, head of medical and paediatric oncology, TMH. "We can cure cancer if the patient comes at an early stage."
"At least 60% of my patients, including the educated, enquire if it is contagious," said Dr Anil Heroor, consultant cancer surgeon, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
A case in point is a 26-year-old woman who suffered from blood cancer was not allowed inside her kitchen while undergoing treatment. "Her mother-in-law would torture," said Sulekha Jadhav, medical social worker, TMH.
Dr Heroor said that once a patient, whose children were of marriageable age, had refused treatment since she believed that no one would marry her children.