Contrary to the prevailing notion that chewing tobacco only increases the risk of oral cancer, a study that looked at different researches conducted in India has shown that smokeless tobacco can also cause oesophageal, throat and even stomach cancer.
The findings are critical. While one-third of the country’s population takes tobacco, 21% of them consume smokeless tobacco, such as gutkha and khaini, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey released in 2010.
“While reviewing various studies, we found the incidence of oesophagal [foodpipe] cancer was higher in the north-east, while in the south we found pancreatic cancer was prevalent in those who consumed smokeless tobacco,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Centre and co-author of the review study.
He added that researches in Madhya Pradesh have showed that throat cancer is common among smokeless tobacco users.
The study, titled A Review of Indian Literature for the Association of Smokeless Tobacco with Malignant and Pre-malignant Diseases of Head and Neck Region, was published last week in the Indian Journal of Cancer.
Researchers said the review exposed the risk of developing throat, stomach, oesophageal, pancreatic, cervical cancer as a result of chewing tobacco.
“It depends how and where you are consuming tobacco. There is a difference in the incidence of tobacco-related cancer between India and the western world. Those who place the tobacco mixture under the lip are more prone to cancer in that region. Those who also consume areca nuts are increasing their risk of two cancers, as areca nut itself is carcinogenic,” said Dr Chaturvedi.
Researchers said apart from the way tobacco is consumed, the ethnicity of the consumer is also a factor in determining the type of cancer he or she is prone to develop.
Unlike in western countries, smokeless tobacco use is far more common than smoking in India. “Unfortunately, there is nobody regulating the use of smokeless tobacco. It is easy to grow tobacco crop anywhere. It is sold loose and also not taxed. A person who stops consuming smokeless tobacco is at the risk of developing cancer for at least a decade after giving up the habit. This itself shows the impact of the habit,” said Dr Chaturvedi.