Even though cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, patients waste precious time in using alternative therapies before going to a hospital for treatment.
Almost 70% of new cancer cases at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)'s Dr BR Ambedkar Institute-Rotary Cancer Hospital are beyond the critical stage two, when the cancer can be treated easily.
Of these, half have been using an alternative therapy for months. Most private hospitals say one in four patients have tried alternative medicines before coming for treatment.
"It is a very common problem that we face. There is no scientific evidence about the efficacy of these therapies but people seem to blindly follow them. We have to spend hours with such people to counsel them," said Dr PK Julka, head of department, radiation oncology, AIIMS.
"It obviously affects the outcome of the treatment outcome," Dr Julka added. Other cancer hospitals also face similar problems.
Apart from consuming certain dubious drugs, these people use varieties of churan, apply herbs such as aloe vera, drink gomutra (calf's urine) and even use of burning coal to destroy the tumour.
According to doctors, such measures only worsen their case. At times, the patient is brought in such a critical condition that it becomes very difficult to treat them, like it happened with Kamini Devi (name changed on request).
The 48-year-old farmer is undergoing treatment at west Delhi's Action Cancer Hospital for stage four breast cancer.
She was diagnosed with cancer nine months ago and was advised surgery to remove the lump, followed by chemotherapy. Instead, she went to a private practitioner who charged them Rs.35,000 for medicines he claimed would cure her cancer.
"The cancer spread to her lungs, liver, bones etc. Though we have started chemotherapy, she may not survive beyond 8 to 10 months," said Dr JB Sharma, senior consultant, medical oncology, Action Cancer Hospital.
Many of those who see a cancer specialist, still continue with alternative medicines.