World Cancer Day: One in 10 Indians will develop cancer in their lifetime

The global epidemic is the second-highest cause of death


February 4, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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Pinkathon, a marathon to spread awareness about breast cancer (courtesy:

World Cancer Day is organised on February 4 every year by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) as an initiative under which the entire world can come together to fight against the global cancer epidemic. The theme for the years 2019-21 has been set as ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign.

While the world is trying to fight the communicable ailments, the non-communicable ones like cancer and cardiovascular diseases seem to be on a rise. According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) report, one in 10 Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime and one in 15 will die of the disease. GLOBOCON report of 2018, compiled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) shows that there were nearly 1.16 million new cases of cancer registered and nearly 784,800 cancer-related deaths recorded in the country. Another report by National Health Profile, 2019 states that the cases of common cancer, which also includes breast cancer (162,500 cases) oral cancer (120,000 cases), cervical cancer (97,000 cases), lung cancer (68,000 cases), stomach cancer (57,000 cases) and colorectal cancer (57,000 cases) diagnosed at state-run NCD clinics has increased by nearly 324 pc between 2017 and 2018.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in tissue or organ of the body. These cells form a mass called tumour which may be benign or cancerous. A cancerous tumour is malignant and may grow to spread and affect other body organs.

Situation in India

The year 2020 is the 20th anniversary of the day which began with the inclusion of the day into the Charter of Paris Against Cancer and the document being signed by then French President Jacques Chirac and the UNESCO general director at that time, Koichiro Matsuura. To mark the year, UICC also commissioned a global survey to get up-to-date information about people’s experiences, views and behaviour around cancer. The multi-country survey conducted by Ipsos, a research company, found out that 9.6 million people died from cancer in 2018 while the majority of these incidents are in the least developed parts of the world.

“One out of every five males and one out of every eleven females are affected by cancer in their lifetime in India. But 75 pc of the cases that we receive comes to us at an advanced stage and is due to lack of awareness,” Dr Suvadip Chakrabarti, MCh surgical oncology, MS, FAIS, consultant surgical oncologist, Apollo Gleneagles Cancer Hospital, Kolkata, tells Media India Group. “People have a misconception that cancer is mostly genetical with familial history, but hardly 5-10 cases that we receive has a familial history to it. It is mostly environmental, occupational and lifestyle-disorder which are the main causes. Like for example for females, in metro-cities, breast cancer is the most common while in rural areas cervical cancer cases are more. Again, India also has the highest number of cervical cancer cases too,” added Dr Chakrabarti.

There are a lot of environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors that can lead to cancer, amongst which tobacco and tobacco products are the leading cause. “Almost 60-70 pc cases in OPD are tobacco-related. People have a conception that tobacco just causes lung cancer, but that is not the case. There may be 12-13 kinds of cancer caused by it like oral, tongue, larynx, stomach, liver and kidney. One of the other main reason for the increase in the number of cancer is obesity and the fast lifestyle we lead,” Dr Chakrabarti adds.

Awareness about the global threat

While awareness needs to spread so that people get to know the different facets of the disease, self-examination is the best way to keep a check, feels Dr Chakrabarti. “I had a patient whose both mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer at the fourth stage. As she was aware, she used to conduct self-examinations and thus was diagnosed quite early and could be cured,” recalls Dr Chakrabarti.

Though the infrastructure to respond to cancer is quite inadequate in the country with shortage of dedicated hospitals and required amount of oncologists for cancer patients, efforts have been undertaken by the government to enhance the facilities. The government of India has implemented the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS) under the National Health Mission (NHM) to generate awareness for cancer prevention, screening, early detection and referral to an appropriate level institution for treatment. The central government has also extended assistance to 18 state cancer institutes and 20 tertiary care cancer centres to strengthen their services.

Under Ayushman Bharat scheme, the government has led the health and wellness centres to screen 5.4 million people for breast cancer. The researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati and the Indian Institute of Sciences (IIS), Bengaluru have collaborated to investigate and work in the field of breast cancer research. People need to become conscious of the lifestyle they lead and try to include healthy habits, good dietary choices and exercise. Simultaneously they should get regular check-ups, do self-examinations and take required immunisation or vaccinations required.

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