Rising CANCER deaths: late diagnosis major cause

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Sixty-nine year old Abdul Razaq would occasionally complain about difficulty in swallowing food. This unease continued for almost a year till it reached a point when even drinking water became a challenge, prompting him to consult a doctor.
A resident of Budgam, Razaq was referred to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) for evaluation where he got the shock of his life: he had esophageal cancer, one of the top five cancers killing people in the Valley.
“Had he come in time may be the things would have been much better today for him,” a doctor commented. While Razaq has been put on radiotherapy, the doctors are not quite optimistic about his recovery.
Doctors say late detection and lack of awareness are main reasons behind high cancer mortality.
Dr Sanuallah Kuchay, head department of radiation oncology at the SMHS hospital said more than 70 percent of cancers in Kashmir are detected in stage III and stage IV, the late stages of the disease.
In such cases the chances of survival are so minimal that only 10 percent of patients fight the battle successfully, he said.
“What could have helped in increasing the survival rate is a robust early detection program and mass awareness program to make people about the disease,” he said.
Compared to such cases, the survival rate is nearly 40 percent in patients diagnosed early.
“We can’t live in denial any more. The mortality related to the disease is on the rise mainly due to lack of awareness and screening facilities at districts level. By the time a patient comes to know about this disease the damage is already done,” said a senior oncologist.
He stressed on the need for serious policy intervention for early diagnosis and better management.
As per latest data by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), released by union ministry of health and family welfare (in March this year, about 22594 people died of cancer in three years from 2014 to 2016 in J&K, implying that on an average 20 people die of cancer every day.
In 2016 alone, 7925 people lost their lives to cancer, the highest for any year for which data is available. In 2014, 7144 people died of various cancers in J&K. The numbers is rising with each passing year.
“If you analyse these cases you will find that most of these patients are those who had been diagnosed at a late or very late stage which reduces options of treatment and chances of survival,” said the oncologist.
In view of this challenge, the Government of India launched the National Program for Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS) in several states. The program is fully funded by the Center and provides for establishment of cancer centres at district level and a state cancer institute. Another important component of this program is mobile vans with cancer diagnostic facilities and outreach camps for screening and early diagnosis.
However, four years down the line, most of these projects are still in execution/planning stages.
The programs, doctors said, would have done “wonders” in generating awareness about cancer prevention, and setting up facilities for screening of the patients at peripheral level to help for early detection.
“The delay (in making facilities available) is costing Kashmir precious lives,” said an oncologist working with health department.
Cancer specialists in Kashmir maintain the disease mortality was on the rise and only a population based cancer registry, a holistic compilation of cancers cases from all state hospitals, would help bring forth the accurate picture.
Dr Maqbool Lone, head of radiation oncology at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) argued that screening facilities at the hospitals in peripheries could go a long way in fighting cancer.
He said there were populations, communities and groups who are at higher risks, due to various factors, and need timely screening that could reduce the risk.
Citing examples, Dr Lone said in Kashmir smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer in men, and among women he said late marriages and resulting late conception were among the causes.
“Obesity is a dangerous thing too, and it is quite prevalent here,” he said. The commonness of H Pylori infections, he said, was also contributing to cancer of stomach in Kashmir. The infection is caused by a type of bacteria that enters body and lives in digestive tract, causing ulcers and sometimes leading to stomach cancer.

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