Inadequate healthcare infrastructure and not an iota of suspicion that they may have cancer are among the leading causes of increasing cancer mortality rates in India, says a Delhi-based oncologist.
Nearly six lakh people die of cancer each year in India; a majority of these deaths are due to oral and breast cancers. According to the World Health Organisation, 79 males per one lakh people and 72 females per one lakh succumb to different types of cancers each year in the country.
“The problem behind increased cancer cases is extremely poor suspicion index,” said Dr Harit Kumar Chaturvedi, chairman, Max Institute of Oncology. “More than 70 per cent patients find out that they have cancer after it has crossed the third stage,” said Dr Chaturvedi on the sidelines of the first Indian Cancer Congress, which was attended by more than 400 oncologists from across the coutry.
Cancer detection across the country varies widely; with 250 cancer patients per lakh per year, Mizoram’s capital Aizwal is the cancer capital of India while Barsi town in Maharashtra reports the least number of cases, between 60-70 per lakh each year. The national average is 130 per lakh per year.
Education and awareness are the biggest weapons in the fight against cancer as these lead to early detection. “Kerala, which has the highest literacy rate in India, reports the maximum number of cases detected early,” said Dr Chaturvedi. “More than 40 per cent cases are detected either at stage one or two, which means fewer deaths.”
Paucity of healthcare infrastructure compounds the problem of late detection, leading to increased fatalties. “In India, diagnosis mechanism is poor. Often people learn about their cancer at stage from where recovery is rare,” said Dr Chaturvedi. “Breast cancer is one such example. Women in rural India don’t go for mamographies because of social restrictions. More than 1,10,000 cases of breast cancer are reported each year in India. In fact, today more women suffer from breast cancer in India than in the US.”