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Growing burden of Cancer in India

Growing Burden of Cancer in India

Cancer is a global health issue. It is a leading cause of death throughout the world and caused 10 million deaths in 2020. While the cancer burden is rising globally, the situation is alarming in developing countries like India. The rise of cancer in India is turning into a serious public health concern. In addition, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and oral cancer are common types of cancer in India.

Cancer is a generic term that refers to a quite large group of diseases affecting any part of the human body. A defining feature of cancer is the development of abnormal cells growing in an uncontrollable way beyond their boundaries. These cells invade adjoining parts of the body and then, spread to other organs as well.

When cancer cells spread throughout the body, the process is known as metastasis. The latter is the main responsible for most cancer deaths.

Cancer is one of the most dangerous diseases in India. The increasing cancer prevalence in India makes cancer control and prevention more challenging.

More statistics on the rise of cancer in India

The Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Centre of Disease Informatics and Research confirm that cancer cases have increased in the country. As per the report of the Indian National Cancer Registry Programme, the burden of cancer in India will reach 1.57 million by 2025. It was 1.39 million in 2020.

Furthermore, the study by FICCI and EY ‘Call for Action: Making quality cancer care more accessible and affordable in India’ refers to the low population coverage of the Indian cancer registries.

National cancer registries in India cover only 10% of the population. In this context, countries, such as the US, the UK, and China have better results.

Cancer in India
Global Population coverage by national cancer registries.
Source: NCRP Annual report, 2020

The organ-wise cancer mortality to incidence ratio is quite high in India, if compared with other countries.

Mortality to incidence ratio of cancer in India
Mortality to Incidence ratio comparison across countries.
Source: NCRP Annual report, 2020

Late-stage cancer detection in India is mainly due to a lack of awareness, according to the study by FICCI and EY.

Additionally, cancer knowledge is limited only to tobacco-related cancers. There is a low level of awareness about other types of cancer in India.

Types of cancer in India
Awareness level across organs.
Source: Localized survays, EY analysis

As per the same source, Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu are the states that have the highest cancer incidence rates.

Most common types of cancer in India

Breast cancer, cervical cancer, and oral cancer are among the most common types of cancer in India as per recent reports from the National Cancer Registry Programme of India.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer usually occurs in females under 40. However, it can affect women of different ages. The breast cancer may have various symptoms, but the most common ones are:

  • A painless lump,

  • Bloody discharge from the nipple,

  • Changes in the size (also shape) of the female’s breast, etc.

The use of the latest technology in health care enables the early detection of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is primarily diagnosed using a mammogram. It shows the x-ray image of the breast and defines the normal and abnormal tissue. There is a need for further screening and testing if abnormal tissue is present.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is also among the most common types of cancer in India. It is the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix-the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Vaginal bleeding,

  • Pain in the lower abdomen,

  • Pain during intercourse,

  • Itching in the vagina.

There is a good chance of a complete cure for cervical cancer if it is detected early.

For the cervix cancer diagnosis, a PAP smear is taken from the cervix to check for abnormal cell growths. A tissue biopsy can also be required. Patients may need to undergo further tests depending on the results of the tests.

Oral (or mouth) cancer

Alcohol and tobacco consumption are among the main causes of oral cancer. The oral cancer symptoms include:

  • Chronic ulcers,

  • Difficulty in chewing or swallowing anything,

  • Changes in the voice

  • Losing teeth (in some cases).

A tissue biopsy is the most common way to diagnose oral cancer.

Challenges of controlling and preventing cancer in India

Prioritizing the cancer treatment

One of the main challenges of controlling cancer in India is the focus on cancer treatment, rather than prevention and diagnosis. However, this approach is less effective, as the early detection of some cancer types can result in successful treatments.

Lack of infrastructure

Despite a large number of cancer patients, India lacks the appropriate institutes, equipment, and human resources to provide effective cancer treatment. The establishment of new cancer care medical centers requires increased funding. There is a need to provide more training opportunities for healthcare personnel.

Late diagnosis of cancer

This is a serious problem in India. Most cancer cases in developed countries are diagnosed early (first or second stage). The situation is different in India, as cancer is diagnosed late (third or fourth stage). Unfortunately, in this case, cancer cells are more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

Limited awareness

Limited awareness regarding cancer symptoms, prevention, and treatment is also a significant challenge in India. As a result, many patients delay seeking medical help.

It’s essential to improve the patient advocacy in India and provide better cancer education. Moreover, guiding cancer patients about the available treatment options can help them make an informed choice.

Lack of equitable and affordable cancer care in rural areas

The rural-urban divide is another major concern in India. Most people live in rural regions of the country. However, no consistency exists between demand and supply in the Indian rural healthcare system. Since regional cancer treatment centers are ill-equipped with facilities to provide quality healthcare services, cancer patients frequently have to travel long distances to reach major urban cancer centers.

On the one hand, this is an additional financial burden for cancer patients. On the other hand, urban cancer centers have to deal with a disproportionate patient load. Consequently, the diagnosis of cancer often leads to huge personal health expenditures for many rural cancer patients. This complicates the efficient delivery of cancer care in India.

The rise of cancer care technology in India

Leveraging cutting-edge technology in health care can improve cancer care process in India. Here are key steps to achieve this goal:

  • With Karkinos cancer technology platform, 6 community cancer centers in Indian multispecialty hospitals are linked to 2 apex cancer centers and an advanced diagnostic center. As the network expands, it will include seventy community cancer centers covering the entire state. Other states of India can also use this as a model.

  • The Indian National Cancer Grid has established the Koita Centre for Digital Oncology. The goal is promoting the use of digital technologies to improve cancer care in India. To support this center for 5 years, the Koita Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with Tata Memorial Centre.

  • Healthtech startups also strive to enhance cancer care in India, such as a Bengaluru-based startup NIRAMAI. Combining artificial intelligence, cloud and machine learning, it offers an advanced breast cancer screening solution. It is both painless and radiation-free.

  • Docus is another successful example of how healthtech startups can improve cancer diagnosis and treatment in India. It connects Indian hospitals with the best oncologists from the USA and Europe. This cooperation can help increase the success rate of cancer treatments.

Ultimately, improving awareness of cancer symptoms, treatment options, and regular health checks can help promote the early detection of cancer in India. Further development of cancer care technology can also foster cancer prevention and treatment in India.

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