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India to get 49 new cancer centres in next 3 years

The Indian government will open 49 new cancer centres throughout the next three years.

“A major medical development”

The initiative – called“a major medical development” by NDTV – will be implemented under the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke (NPCDCS). The NPCDCS has already seen the construction and upgrading of 31 cancer centres since 2015.

The new centres will be classified into two categories: state cancer institutes and tertiary care cancer centres (TCCCs). A project plan has been submitted by the health ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).  An estimated cost of Rs 3,495 (US$541.9 million) has been outlined for the initiative.

“A huge shortage of trained oncologists”

The initiative seeks to overcome the limited accessibility of cancer treatment in India. In particular, it seeks to address what All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) surgeon Dr Alok Thakar calls a “huge shortage of trained oncologists in the country.”

Regional Cancer Centre, By Drcmohank (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
A 2014 Times of India story said there were just 2,000 oncologists in the country. Others give much lower estimates. By contrast, the U.S. (with about a fifth of India’s population) has about 30,000 oncologists.

Rising cancer rates

This is at a time when cancer rates in India are on the rise. One million new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year and more than 700,000 deaths are recorded. These rates are anticipated to rise in the coming years. As Health Issues India reported last year, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) expect the incidence of cancer to increase to 1.73 million new cases a year and 880,000 deaths by 2020.

Just 36 percent of Indian cancer patients receive treatment. Many of these are not detected until the advanced stages when they are more difficult to treat – if they can be treated at all. To compensate for the shortage of oncologists, Thakar says  “it is necessary that general practitioners and dentists and other doctors are trained in basic screening techniques to detect warning signs of cancer.”  

Public awareness of cancer signs and symptoms in India is low. A study published in the Journal of Business Research in September found that a significant lack of awareness surrounding breast cancer is causing late diagnoses. This could lead to 76,000 deaths from the disease each year by 2020.

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