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Early detection can prevent most cancers from turning deadly: report

Most cancers that kill Indians — oral cavity, breast, cervical — are preventable if detected at an early stage, said doctors who conducted the study on cancer-related deaths in India.

mumbai Updated: Mar 29, 2012 02:09 IST

Most cancers that kill Indians — oral cavity, breast, cervical — are preventable if detected at an early stage, said doctors who conducted the study on cancer-related deaths in India. The study was published in The Lancet on Wednesday. In 2010, 23% of cancer deaths among men were because of oral cavity cancers. Among women, 17% of the deaths were because of cervical cancer while breast cancer accounted for 10% of the deaths.

“In the west, cancer in the internal organs like the stomach is higher. In India, cancer in the external organs like breast is higher. In such cases, early detection helps prevent deaths,” said Dr Rajesh Dikshit, associate professor, epidemiology, Tata Memorial Hospital, one of the main authors of the study.

Literacy can prevent cancer deaths. While 39.6% of cancer deaths occurred among illiterate men, 71.8% occurred among illiterate women. For both sexes, an illiterate person is twice as likely to die of cancer than one who has studied till the secondary or higher secondary level.

The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US National Institutes of Health, has for the first time, included cancer deaths among India’s rural population. Earlier, studies gleaned data from cancer registries in 24 sites, of which 22 are in urban sites. “Most of the registries didn’t have good data on mortality,” said Dikshit.

The northeastern states had the highest cancer mortality rates in India. Here, 112 out of a 1,000 men, more than 30 years old, may die of cancer before turn 70. This figure was 60 among 1,000 women from the northeast.

Contrary to the perception that cancer kills urban people, it says the cancer death rate is similar in rural and urban areas.

Oral cancer most fatal among men
Most cancer deaths among men in the country in 2010 occurred because of oral cancer followed by stomach and lung cancers, said a Lancet study.

The study said tobacco-related cancers such as oral, lung and stomach, account for 42% of cancer deaths in men and 18.3% of cancer deaths in women in the country. In 2010, an estimated 84,000 male cancer patients and 35,000 female cancer patients between 30 and 69 years of age died because of tobacco-related cancers.

“This study provides a reliable number of tobacco-related deaths in each state. This will only spur action if we keep reminding lawmakers about the unique aspects of tobacco usage and cancer,” said Prabhat Jha, of Centre for Global Research, Toronto, Canada, one of the authors of the study.

Lung cancer was the next most fatal cancer among urban men. In rural areas it was stomach cancer. The northeast, which has the highest incidence of tobacco use in India, had the highest number of tobacco-related deaths. Assam and northeastern states had a higher death rate than the national cancer death rate. Also, because of limited access to cancer treatment facilities, the disease is detected at a much later stage.

“Since 80% of tobacco consumption is in the form of gutka, ban it under the Food Safety Standards Act of India. Madhya Pradesh is the only state, which has banned it from April 1. The government should also declare all public places and work places as tobacco-free,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor, Tata Memorial Hospital.

Cervical cancer biggest killer among Indian women
Cervical cancer is the cause for most cancer deaths among Indian women, stated a study on cancer mortality in India published in The Lancet on Wednesday. These include women from both the rural and urban areas, with higher rates in rural areas.

In 2010, 1.95 lakh women between the age group of 30 and 69 years died of cancer. Of these around 33,400 (17%) died of cervical cancer. The cervical cancer deaths were much higher than breast cancer-related deaths (19,900) in the country in 2010.

The mortality rates of breast cancer in the rural and urban areas were similar.

Cervical cancer was found to be 40% less common among Muslim women. “Circumcision among Muslim men, which reduces the sexual transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), is the likely explanation,” stated the study conducted by the Centre for Global Health Research, Toronto and the Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel, among others. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

In states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, where the proportion of Muslim women is higher, the mortality rates because of cervical cancer was much lower than the pan India morality rates.

In India, 16 out of 1 lakh women between the ages of 30 and 69 die of cervical cancer. This figure is 2.3 in J&K and 3.5 in Assam.

In rural areas, 25,400 women died of cervical cancer as opposed to 8,000 women in urban areas.

“It is a shame that anyone dies of cervical cancer in our country because it can be prevented at a stage before it becomes cancerous. Most cervical cancer deaths in rural areas occur because of late detection. Any trained health worker can do a visual inspection for as little as Rs5,” said Manisha Gupte, co-founder of Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal, a non-profit working for women’s rights and development in Pune district.

First Published: Mar 29, 2012 02:08 IST