Cancer Is A Preventable Disease Then Why There's Significant Mortality Rates In India?

According to the National Cancer Registry Programme, in India, NCDs were estimated to account for 63 per cent of all deaths, and cancer was one of the leading causes

I would like you to count something today.

Count the number of people you know. Your parents, siblings, children, friends, grandparents, grandchildren, teachers etc.

What if I told you that 1 out of every 9 people you know are likely develop cancer in their lifetime?That’s right.

According to the National Cancer Registry Programme, in India, NCDs were estimated to account for 63 per cent of all deaths, and cancer was one of the leading causes. With more than 1300 Indians dying every day due to cancer, the incidence of cancer is rising at an alarming rate.

ICMR forecasted a 12 per cent growth in India’s cancer cases within the next 5 years which means that in the absence of proper interventions, it would only be a matter of time before we become the world’s cancer capital. 

Today, on World Cancer Day, we want to bring to light the pressing challenge of cancer incidence and mortality amongst Indians and how to beat this.

Why is cancer incidence growing in India?

The projected 5 most common cancers for males (lung, mouth, prostate, tongue, and stomach) constitute 36 per cent and for females (breast, cervix uteri, ovary, corpus uteri, and lung) constitute 53 per cent, of all cancers.

The leading causes of cancer in India are tobacco, supari, paan, viral infections, air pollution, dust, and the consumption of alcohol. 

This means that the growing incidence of cancer in India is attributable largely to the lifestyle and the quality of air. In fact, tobacco (in all its forms - chewing, smoking and passive smoking) accounts for 30 per cent of all the cancer cases in India. 

Why is cancer mortality growing in India?

Cancer, as we know, has 4 stages – in situ, early stage, locoregional, and distant metastasis. In India, 70 per cent of cancer cases are detected in the last two stages. This has two implications: higher rates of mortality (since treatment is less effective at later stages ) and prohibitively expensive (as much as 3 times) in the last two stages. 

Survival rates improve dramatically with early detection. Survival rate is as low as 14 per cent post-diagnosis in stage IV and as high as 90 per cent 5-year survival rate post-diagnosis in stage I.

Late diagnosis can be attributed to several factors: a lack of regular screening due to stigma around cancer (which promotes hiding the disease), the general mindset of visiting a doctor only after things become unbearable, and the absence of proximate accessibility to cancer centres that provide quality treatment.

How can we prevent cancer?

The evidence indicates that almost 25–30 per cent cancer-related deaths are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35 per cent are linked to diet, about 15–20 per cent are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc.

The simple practices of not smoking, increasing the ingestion of fruits and vegetables, moderate use of alcohol, caloric restriction, exercise, avoidance of prolonged direct exposure to sunlight, minimal meat consumption, use of whole grains, use of vaccinations (those that prevent the development of this cancer itself), and regular check-ups go a long way in preventing cancer.

But how can we tackle this head on?

Creating new hospitals alone will not reduce the cancer related deaths in India. 

We need a multi-dynamic approach for effectively addressing this issue.

Creating awareness: At the grass root level, we need to spread more awareness about cancer and cancer care. People need to be made aware about the kind of habits that lead to different kinds of cancer, the various symptoms of these cancers, and the myths about cancer being “a life-taker with no option for survival” need to be debunked.

Normalising proactive health checks: We need to inspire the public create a safe space which allows men, women, and children alike to come forward and share any symptoms they notice with their loved ones who, in turn, need to take them for a consultation with doctors. Regular health check-ups need to be normalised.

Democratising quality care: It cannot remain concentrated in select hospitals and clinics which end up swamped with patients because of the demand-supply mismatch and results in delayed treatment and a demand-driven cost hike. Need to expand the existing cancer care network to every corner of the country.

In so doing, not only will the incidence of cancer of reduce through widespread awareness, but diagnosis will also be at an earlier stage, and treatment will be more accessible, affordable, and competitively better.

It is encouraging to know that healthtech startups – have embarked on this very path to reduce the cancer burden in our nation.

January was observed as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and February 4 is World Cancer Day. Did you take the HPV DNA test to check for infection with HPV types associated with cervical cancer? If not, do it now. We are at the cusp of change, and it starts with just one move- putting your health first.


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