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Alarming rise in cancer cases in India could make it ‘cancer capital of the world’

India has witnessed an estimated rise in cancer cases which went from 14.2 lakh in 2021 to 14.6 lakh in 2022. It was an estimated 13.9 lakh in 2020.

Fatima hasan 14 June 2024 10:39

India sees rise of cancer cases

The rising number of cancer cases in India, particularly among the youth has unveiled an alarming picture of the state of declining health in India.

A recent report by multinational hospital chain Apollo has highlighted the skyrocketing cases of cancer and other non-communicable diseases across the country which has earned India the title of “the cancer capital of the world.”

India has witnessed an estimated rise in cancer cases which went from 14.2 lakh in 2021 to 14.6 lakh in 2022. It was an estimated 13.9 lakh in 2020. The report aims to highlight the growing 'silent epidemic' that needs prioritized action.

According to the report, one-third of Indians are pre-diabetic, two-thirds are pre-hypertensive, and one in 10 struggles with depression. These chronic conditions, including cancer, are reaching critical levels and thus impacting the nation’s health.

Although India reports more than a million new cancer cases every year, it has not yet surpassed countries like Denmark, Ireland, and Belgium, which record some of the highest cancer rates in the world.

However, the “epidemiological transition” could soon change the dynamics as the number of cancer cases is expected to dramatically rise from 1.39 million in 2020 to 1.57 million by 2025.

The most common cancers among women are reported to be breast cancer, cervix cancer, and ovarian cancer while men are mostly affected by lung cancer, mouth cancer, and prostate cancer.

Globally, men generally report a 25% higher incidence of cancer than women, but in India this trend is reversed with more women getting diagnosed with cancer, according to a study published in the Lancet Oncology.

Certain cancers which usually affect old age are affecting younger lot sooner than in the US, UK, and China.
In India, the median age for lung cancer is 59 while it is 70 in the U.S., 68 in China, and 75 in the U.K., according to the new report.

The high rate of cancer cases is due to many factors including environmental and socioeconomic conditions, like high levels of pollution, along with lifestyle and dietary preferences. Almost 40% of cancer cases in India are due to high tobacco use, which increases the risk of lung, oral, and throat cancers. Factors like poor diet and lack of physical activity cause 10% of cases.

A report by Frontline mentioned Praful Reddy, 49, an IT professional from Andhra Pradesh, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2022. He has been undergoing treatment, including targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation to stop its spread.

Another case was reported from Bengaluru, where a 12-year-old Dipti was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare type of cancer that originates in the kidneys and mainly affects children. Her doctor said that the radiation therapy she is receiving has caused side effects such as skin damage and hair loss.

Most common cancers in India

Breast cancer
This cancer is increasingly affecting younger women with half of the cases being reported in urban areas among women younger than 50 years of age. Various factors including limited breastfeeding practices, and other lifestyle choices are responsible for breast cancer among young women. Certain genetic predispositions with BRCA (Breast Cancer) gene mutations are often found prevalent in certain sections of Indian populations.

Oral Cancer
Rampant usage of tobacco and alcohol in India is one of the primary causes which accounts for 90% of oral cancers in the country. Poor oral hygiene practices and a diet low in fruits and vegetables coupled with the usage of smokeless tobacco, such as gutka and paan masala further aggravate the problem.

Cervical Cancer
In rural India cervical cancer ranks high, essentially due to a lack of awareness and proper hygiene practices. No access to healthcare facilities and inadequate screening programs for HPV (Human Papillomavirus) detection adds to the persistent issue. Early sexual activity, multiple partners and a lack of vaccination against HPV are also contributing factors.

Lung Cancer
High levels of environmental pollution and smoking habits in men and women are closely linked with a rise in cases of lung cancer. Pollutants from cooking fuels and passive smoking also elevate the risk, as a significant number of lung cancer patients have no record of smoking. In the National Capital Region (NCR), an individual is estimated to inhale environmental pollution that is equivalent to smoking 15 to 20 cigarettes daily.

Colorectal Cancer
The dietary shift towards junk food among Indians is seen as the primary cause of colorectal cancer in India. Reduced fiber intake, an inactive lifestyle, obesity, and genetic predisposition are some of the other contributing factors.

Preventive measures with regular screening
Experts have highlighted the need for regular health screenings, for oral, breast, and cervical cancer. However, less than 1% of people opt for it, according to national data.

“There is no doubt that cancer is growing and there needs to be prioritized action by everyone. The government should incentivize screening as a first measure,” said Nitesh Rohatgi, a senior director of medical oncology at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

“There is also a need for policies to impart financial protection and expand the screening and curative services for cancer,” he added.

Initiatives on the government level with comprehensive public health campaigns which talk about risk factors and lifestyle modifications can also help in raising awareness.

With a collaborative effort by the government, healthcare providers, NGOs, and the community, effective strategies can be developed to prevent, detect, and manage cancers effectively.


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