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30% of all cancers in India caused due to tobacco usage: Experts

Bangalore: Cancer is an ever-increasing public health menace in India, and has become one of the leading causes of mortality. Cancer can have profound social and economic consequences for people in India, often leading to family impoverishment and social inequity.

In India, a large proportion of all cancers (up to 30%) are those caused due to tobacco usage, according to the Foundation of Head-Neck Oncology (FHNO), the apex organisation of doctors of various specialities dedicated to treating cancers of the head-neck region.

A brief look at the statistics of tobacco related cancers and health issues puts forth an alarming picture.

According to an ICMR study, 50% of cancers in males and 20% cancers in females can be directly attributed to tobacco use. Most of these cancers are head-neck and lung cancers.

Further, it is estimated that about 40% of the non-communicable diseases (NCD) including cancers, cardio-vascular diseases and lung disorders are directly attributable to tobacco use.

A conservative estimate of tobacco attributable deaths in India is a worrying number of 10 lakh a year. Of the dead, about 70% will be lost during the productive periods of their lives — between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Equally bothersome is the high prevalence of tobacco use amongst children and youth of the country.

A concerted, multi-pronged, multi-organizational effort would thus be required to curb the ever-growing tobacco menace. Though modern medicine and cutting edge surgical and technical advances have enabled treatment of many such cancers; increasingly, prevention seems to be the only long-term solution.

There are several organisations in India and internationally that are dedicated to this cause. The World Health Organization (WHO) observes 31st May every year as the ‘World No Tobacco Day’ (WNTD). This day is dedicated to promulgating the ill-effects of tobacco, and public education through various groups.

Recently, the anti-tobacco activism in India got a big shot in the arm when the government mandated an increase in the size of the pictorial warnings on tobacco products. This year’s WNTD slogan is: ‘Get Ready for Plain Packaging (of tobacco products)’.

FHNO consists of surgeons, cancer treating physicians (medical oncologists), radiation specialists, as well as several other allied specialities.

At the core of all FHNO activities is disseminating knowledge about head-neck cancers and their treatment, improving treatment outcomes, medical research and training, and community education. Education about the prevention of these cancers is a central aim of FHNO.

This year FHNO through its nationwide members will be organising anti-tobacco events and mass education drives at various cities in India.

Dr Moni A Kuriakose, president of FHNO and chief of head-neck oncology at Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore, said, “Increasing use of tobacco products both as smoking and chewing of Gutka have led to the development of oral cancer at an epidemic proportion. All of us should join hands to curtail tobacco consumption which will minimize the burden of cancer in India.”

Dr Prathamesh S Pai, secretary of FHNO and professor of head-neck oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, added, “A combined anti-tobacco effort is the need of the hour. FHNO expresses its solidarity with all activism aimed at reducing tobacco-related cancer burden, and would align itself with such activities”

On the occasion of the ‘World No Tobacco Day’, FHNO has decided to relaunch its website www.fhno.org which will be the public face of the national association of doctors fighting this scourge of head and neck cancer in the country.

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