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The ever-rising cases of cancer in India

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September 22 - Rose Day (Welfare of Cancer Patients)

Taking care of your daily diet, exercising regularly hold key to a healthy life

Dr. Satyavan Saurabh

The increasing cases of cancer are deteriorating the health of our society as it has become one of the leading causes of death in India. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in India after heart disease. On average, more than 1,800 Indians are dying of cancer every day. With new cancer cases projected to increase by 25% by 2025, cancer is slowly becoming a major killer. Some measures are needed to look at the causes of cancer in India and to prevent the increasing incidence of cancer. India has seen a steady increase in cancer cases over several decades.

A 2017 report showed that between 1990 and 2016, the cancer burden in India increased by 2.6 times and cancer deaths doubled over time. About two-thirds of these cancer cases are in their late stages. Lung cancer, oral cancer, and colon cancer are common in men while breast, cervical, ovary, and gall bladder cancers are common in women. A report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology, and Environment said that Indian cancer patients have a 20% higher cancer mortality rate than countries with a “high-level” Human Development Index. The panel has also said that India’s cancer care infrastructure is “extremely inadequate” and forces most patients to travel “thousands of kilometers” for treatment.

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to the body’s organs. Possible signs and symptoms include lumps, unusual bleeding, prolonged cough, and unexplained weight gain. Although these symptoms indicate cancer, they can be due to other reasons as well. More than 100 types of cancer affect humans. Tobacco use is the cause of approximately 22% to 25% of cancer deaths. Obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity, or excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for 10% of cancer deaths.

Other factors include certain infections such as exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants. In developing countries, 15% of cancers are caused by infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus infection, Epstein-Barr virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Usually, several genetic changes occur before cancer develops. It is necessary. About 5-10% of cancers are due to genetic defects inherited from a person’s parents. After early signs of cancer are detected, it is usually diagnosed by medical imaging and confirmed by biopsy.

Drinking, smoking, and tobacco use are major causes of cancer among men in India, both in rural and urban areas. In addition, passive smoking puts the health of others at risk, especially children and women. The use of tobacco in the form of smoking is quite prevalent in Indian society. Indiscriminate use of fertilizers in agriculture is one of the causes of cancer. There are a large number of such cancer patients from Punjab to Rajasthan. Fertilizers are particularly dangerous and increase the risk of cancer in pregnant women.

Changing lifestyle and busy lifestyle with no time for physical exercise as well as unhealthy food like pizza, and burger lead to obesity which paves way for cancer. Consumption of red chilies in large quantities, food, and alcohol at very high temperatures are the main risk factors for colon cancer in India. Increasing pollution and harmful chemicals in the environment act as an irritant and have increased the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer. Non-availability of hospitals and poor diagnostic equipment make cancer spread to higher stages where it becomes difficult to treat. Despite the established benefits of screening, coverage for women in India remains low. Out-of-pocket cost does not make the treatment affordable. Public health service is inadequate so people go to private hospitals for treatment. According to an estimate, there are only 2,000 oncologists for 10 million patients in India. Furthermore, the infrastructure to support cancer research has a long way to go.

The National Program for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke (NPCDCS) is being implemented under the National Health Mission (NHM). The primary components include creating awareness for cancer prevention, screening, early detection, and referral to the appropriate institution for treatment. The ‘Tertiary Care for Cancer’ scheme was launched with the primary objective of setting up separate units in each state. The National Tobacco Control Program has been launched to create awareness about the dangerous effects of tobacco consumption and to reduce the demand and supply of tobacco products. The Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RAN) was launched to meet the financial demands of cancer treatment, a recent drug discovery for breast cancer patients would be able to increase life span. The drug has an advantage over chemotherapy and may have fewer side effects than the standard treatment. There is a need to increase financial support to the health care sector. The government should discourage the habit of smoking and drinking among the youth. Prohibition of liquor in Gujarat and Bihar is a step in the right direction. Warnings on cigarette packets should be monitored for their effectiveness in discouraging smoking. It is important to discourage the overuse of fertilizers and encourage organic farming.

India is committed to reducing cancer deaths by one-third by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals and has made considerable progress. There have been improvements in some areas in India, such as personal hygiene, that will help ward off cancer. Our approach should not only focus on diagnosis, treatment modalities, and vaccines but also emphasize inclusiveness in thinking and action for common solutions that can significantly reduce the impact of cancer at all socioeconomic levels in the country. People should be mindful of their diet and should do some kind of exercise regularly. Yoga plays an important role in this. Patients should pay attention to the symptoms and have regular check-ups. Pollution control mechanisms should be followed on an immediate basis. It is important to take proactive steps to prevent cancer. The government should limit the prices of cancer drugs as they are very expensive. In the end, dietary changes can make a big difference in cancer prevention. Awareness about causes and symptoms along with community involvement is the need of the hour.

The writer is Poet, Independent Journalist and Columnist, All India Radio and TV Panellist.


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