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Need to focus on rising cancer cases in smaller cities in India: Experts

IANS Feb 12, 2024

Even as cancer cases are also rising in smaller cities in India, health experts stressed the need to expand oncology services to the country's tier-II cities.

Cancer diagnosis and treatment should be made accessible to the greatest number of people, especially those in the smaller cities, said the experts at the recently concluded two-day scientific conference IO-CON2024 held by the International Oncology Cancer Institute (IOCI) in the national capital.

"Of the almost 14 lakh new cancer cases diagnosed in India every year, more than 60 per cent get diagnosed in advanced stages which underscores the need for enhancing the awareness and diagnosis," said Shubham Garg, Director of Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida.

"In India, there are more than 640 radiation therapy equipment, but because the country is now experiencing a 5-7 per cent annual growth in cancer cases, the number of machines needs to be scaled up to 1,400 as per WHO. The infrastructure costs associated with any oncology institution exceed Rs 100 crore, and the cost of radiation devices is at least Rs 25 crore. This calls for sufficient public-private cooperation to make the treatment accessible to the greatest number of people, which is still limited to a set of people," added Anita Malik, Senior Consultant and clinical lead radiation oncologist at IOCI.

Every year, India sees an increase of 5-7 per cent in cancer cases, the experts said. This majorly includes lung cancer, head and neck cancers and breast cancer.

The oncologists emphasised that 50 per cent of lung cancer cases in India occur in non-smokers. It is caused by declining air quality, aside from lifestyle factors. It is concerning that in some circumstances, the patient has never smoked and arrives at the doctor's office in a more advanced state, they noted.

Because tobacco smoking is so pervasive in India, head and neck cancer is also quite common among men there, accounting for 30 per cent of all cancer cases. In addition, breast cancer is the most common among women, with every eighth woman in India suffering from the fatal disease.

Madhur Garg, the Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in the US, emphasised the importance of expanding oncology services in tier-two cities in India. He advocates for a strong public-private partnership to achieve this goal.

Garg pointed out that doctors are willing to serve in tier-two cities, provided there is adequate infrastructure in place to support cancer treatment services.

He also acknowledges the positive impact of the Ayushman Bharat health coverage provided by the Government of India. This health coverage initiative offers financial assistance for cancer treatment, which is expected to improve the accessibility of testing and treatment processes for people living in smaller towns across the country.

"The future of cancer treatment is very optimistic, but the key lies in the timely detection which requires a more people-friendly approach at the oncology centres. The medical services must reach smaller cities where the cooperation of government and the private sector healthcare will make a difference and save more lives," said the Programme Director, IOCI.

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