Incidence of cancer is growing

The growing incidence of cancer globally and in India is worrying. According to the report, ‘Global Burden of Cancer-2013,’ which was published recently in an oncology journal, in 2013, there were 14.9 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide. The study found that lung, stomach and liver cancer are the three leading causes of cancer in both sexes combined. There is a silver lining in this grim scenario.

Although cancer has emerged the second-largest killer after cardiovascular diseases, deaths due to cancer are falling. Early detection and diagnosis as well as treatment seem to have had a positive impact in limiting cancer deaths. While India’s incidence of cancer is still lower than the global average, it has shot up from over 700 new cases per million population in 1990 to nearly 1,000 new cases per million people in 2013. Breast cancer continues to account for the largest number of new cases among Indian women and it has replaced cervical cancer to emerge their biggest killer. Most new cases among men are of oral cancer and most men lose their lives to lung cancer. Certain cancers have witnessed a sharp increase in the 1990-2013 period; prostate cancer cases grew by 220 per cent, liver cancer by 88 per cent and oesophageal cancer by 64 per cent.

The study provides useful pointers to how India needs to move in its battle against cancer. The large number of oral and lung cancer cases and deaths underscores the need for robust action against smoking and chewing tobacco. Many in India believe that while smoking cigarettes is harmful chewing tobacco isn’t. Such misconceptions need to be removed. There is a need to step up awareness of all cancers as early diagnosis prevents painful treatment and death. Public awareness of prostrate cancer, in particular, is still limited in this country and health authorities need to draw attention to its symptoms.  
Besides awareness, health authorities need to improve public access to treatment. Facilities for treating cancer are available only in big cities. Since treatment extends over a long period, many patients are reluctant to take it as it involves relocation of
the patient and her family. Besides, treatment of cancer is very expensive and can run into several lakhs of rupees for one cycle of chemotherapy. In the circumstances, many patients prefer to avoid treatment altogether or turn to cheaper alternatives, which are not effective. The human and economic costs of cancer are high. India needs to act to prevent the disease and reduce costs of diagnosis and treatment.

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