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India’s cancer burden continues to grow

cancer treatmentIndia’s cancer burden is continuing to increase according to recent data from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). 

The news came from minister of state for health Ashwini Choubey, who told the Lok Sabha that the Centre was emphasising its efforts to tackle breast, cervical, and oral cancer which account for 41 percent of the total cancer burden in the country together with lung cancer. The national average cancer incidence is 13.1 for every lakh people, with more than half of states recording an incidence above this figure. 

In terms of cases by number, Uttar Pradesh leads the nation with 270,053 cancer cases in 2018. Meanwhile, Kerala witnessed the largest increase in cancer cases between 2016 and 2018, with a 12.8 percent growth. Bihar ranks second in terms of both cases and growth, with 145,051 cases in 2018 – reflecting an eleven percent increase from 2016. 

The data was shared to Lok Sabha MPs in a reminder of cancer’s growing threat to public health in India. Cancer is responsible for almost thirteen percent of deaths in the country, placing second in terms of leading causes of mortality behind heart disease. In the coming years, cancer is expected only to increase further as a threat to public health. By 2040, cancer rates are expected to almost double to twenty lakh compared to 11.6 lakh cases in 2016. The disease is estimated to have killed 784,821 Indians last year, with new cases numbering at 1.15 million and the total number of people living with cancer in the country posited at 2.25 million. 

The threat the disease poses to public health is exacerbated by the state of cancer care infrastructure, which was deemed “highly inadequate” by a parliamentary panel earlier this year. The country has approximately 1,250 oncologists to manage its significant demand and, by 2040, will require 7,300 oncologists in order to cope with its cancer burden. A mere 62 dedicated cancer care centres operate in the country – making it an unsurprising though no less grim finding that 83 percent of India’s cancer patients are failed on their treatment.

Data of the kind presented to the Lok Sabha is vital in assisting India in managing its cancer burden, as areas where cancer rates are high can be appraised and resources allocated accordingly. In a country beset by a multitude of health woes, cancer is among the most prominent – and requires a cohesive, targeted intervention by policymakers in order to ensure that the standards of cancer care in India are fit for purpose.

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