New Delhi: Cancer comes without warning. It does not give the victims an alarm to be alert and approach a cancer specialist as soon as it attacks them. Because of this mysterious character of this disease, as many as five lakh people are dying from cancer every year in India, according to a World Cancer Report from the World Health Organisation.
A detailed analysis of the WHO report GLOBOCAN 2012 gives a startling figure about the state of rising cancer in India. As per the study, cancer is the leading cause of deaths in the country now and the number is only expected to rise to 7 lakh by 2015.
According to GLOBOCAN 2012, more women in India are being newly diagnosed with cancer annually. As against 4.77 lakh men, 5.37 lakh women were diagnosed with cancer in India in 2012; and while 3.56 lakh men died of cancer in 2012 in India, the corresponding number for women was 3.26 lakh.
According to the report, breast cancer is estimated to have claimed 70,000 lives out of 145,000 cases reported in India in 2012 while 67,000 women died of cervical cancer out of 123,000 cases reported in the same year.
There were about 70,000 new cases of lung cancer reported in both sexes in India and the mortality stood at 64,000. Men alone accounted for 54,000 cases and 49,000 deaths due to the disease in 2012.
About 63,000 new cases of stomach cancer in both sexes were estimated to have occurred in 2012 in India with 59,000 deaths related to it. About 43,000 incidence and 41,000 deaths due to the disease were reported for men alone.
The figures for Colorectal Cancer stood at 64,000 cases reported and 49,000 deaths in both sexes while men accounted for 28,000 deaths and women 21,000 deaths.
Oesophageal cancer claimed 39,000 deaths out of 42,000 cases reported in both sexes in India in 2012. Men alone accounted for 27,000 incidences and 25,000 deaths.
Likewise, 27,000 cases of liver cancer for both sexes were reported and the same number of deaths due to it. Men accounted for 17,000 incidences and the same number of deaths.
The report further reveals that 19,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 12,000 deaths due to the disease in both sexes were reported in India in 2012.
Cancer specialists believe that cancer is earning this dubious distinction of being a killer disease for lack of awareness among public, delayed diagnosis and lack of adequate medical facilities in India. However, the truth remains that if cancer is detected in its early stages, it can be treated and the individual can lead a healthy life.
Dr Anita Ramesh, professor, medical oncology, Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, Chennai told India Medical Times, “The most pressing reason for increasing cancer deaths is lack of awareness about the symptoms of cancer and the right doctor to approach. The biggest problem behind the rising numbers is that most Indians don’t suspect they may have cancer. Late detection is the single most reason for claiming most of the lives due to cancer. We need to increase cancer awareness and step up early detection and screening programmes in the country. I handle almost 75-80 cancer cases every day, most of which come at advanced stages which makes it a monumental task to both counsel and treat them.”
“While it is important to work on detection, it is even more important to create and improve the infrastructure for treatment. Cancer treatment runs into lakhs of rupees, government should cover cancer patients under insurance-sponsored healthcare,” she added.
Dr Devinder Singh Sandhu, oncologist and haematologist, Sandhu Cancer Centre, Ludhiana told India Medical Times, “Most of the cancer patients in India come for treatment only in the late stages of the disease because of which they face many hardships and have to undergo painful treatment procedures. Usually they approach a general practitioner for the first time they start feeling unwell because cancer is not something they have been expecting to have attacked them. They lose valuable time before they finally contact a good oncologist. Also, there are only few thousands of qualified oncologists in the country. In my region, the cancer facility is appalling, it is also the same in the whole state.”
“India needs to step up cancer screening by opening more screening centres. Early detection is the key. We also have to step up proper palliative care and hospices in the country,” he added.
Dr Sumeet Shah, consultant surgical oncologist, Mumbai told India Medical Times, “There is a serious dearth of oncologists in India. Even if the country is not able to produce as many cancer specialists as required, a little improvement could be made in the medical curriculum so that even general practitioners could be trained to look for signs of cancer and give right guidance to the patient to save his valuable time and money.”
According to the experts, high treatment costs is also one of the main reasons why cancer care is out of reach for millions of Indians. If detected early, cancer treatment is effective and cheaper but even at late stages there are many healthcare centres which are providing low cost treatment.
“As against the popular perception that cancer treatment is something a very costly affair, there are many hospitals and charitable organisations which are doing the treatment at very low cost. Patients just don’t believe that the treatment and care would be as good as any five star hospital. They usually change doctors for lack of confidence to be treated effectively,” said Dr Shah.
Experts believe that with right interventions — awareness, screening, more cancer centres and cancer specialists, cost effective treatment and health insurance programmes — the country can battle cancer successfully.
The disease doesn’t spare anyone; it attacks those who abuse their body and even those who do not, whether a patient has a history of this disease running in the family or not. Before the rising number of cancer cases takes the country by surprise, it’s time to wage a full on war against it. Nipping it in the bud is the best intervention we can make.
by Vidhi Rathee