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Study unveils the costs of oral cancer

The Tata Memorial Centre has recently published the findings of a first-of-its-kind study, researching the cost of illness and treatment of oral cancer in India. 


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The study, headed by Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi set out to conduct a cost of illness analysis that would provide invaluable information for policymakers that make appropriate allocation of resources towards cancer. The findings reveal that approximately Rs 2,386 crore was spent in 2020 on oral cancer treatment, paid for by insurance schemes, government and private sector funding, spending out of pocket payments, and charitable donations. “This straining economic impact of oral cancer treatment strongly suggests that prevention must be one of the key mitigation strategies for addressing affordability,” said the study, adding that almost all oral cancers are caused by some form of tobacco and areca nut use.

As documented by Health Issues India earlier this year, “the growing rise of cases of cancer in India translates to one in ten Indians being affected by the disease in their lifetime and one in fifteen losing their lives. Recent decades saw cancer in India emerge as the country’s second-largest killer – and the country’s cancer burden is only expected to grow.”

Dr R. A. Badwe, director of the Tata Memorial Center said, “As per the GLOBOCAN statistics, the rate of new cases being diagnosed has increased by a staggering 68 per-cent in the past two decades alone, making it a real public health crisis. To add to this, accessibility [of] health services is low, which coupled with poor health literacy results in a majority of cases presenting with an advanced-stage disease that is often difficult to treat.”

The study identified several concerning factors. According to Dr Arjun Singh, research fellow at Tata Memorial Hospital and the lead author of the study, the unit cost of treating advanced stages (Rs 202,892) was found to be 42 percent greater than early stages (Rs 117,135).

This increased cost related to advanced stage cancer is not a surprising discovery. However, the increased cost is also likely to coincide with greater levels of mortality during treatment. As cancer progresses to advanced stages the tumour cells metastasise — or, put simply, spread to other areas of the body. This metastasis can change what may otherwise be a surgical removal of a solid tumour to a whole body treatment involving aspects such as chemotherapy. Regardless of the types of treatment used at this stage, the prognosis is typically far worse. 

The study has highlighted that “early detection strategies leading to just twenty percent reduction in advanced stage disease could save almost Rs 250 crore annually.” Prevention, in this case, as well as with many cancers and other noncommunicable conditions, is far more effective than treatment.

In the case of oral cancer the study found that a vast number of cases are being found in men, and are linked to tobacco usage. In this regard, further campaigns to cut down on tobacco usage would see rates of not only oral cancer fall, but a host of other conditions.

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