New research highlights a disturbing trend of low oral cancer awareness in Assam.
The Dr B. Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) flagged the alarming statistic on the basis of a survey of 250 people, with 26.8 percent unaware of screening for oral cancer to detect the disease in its nascent stages. Explaining the findings, associate professor at the BCCI Srabana Misra Bhagabaty said “a total of 42 (16.8 percent) respondents do not know about the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer. But it is more surprising that 67 (26.8 percent) respondents have never even heard about oral cavity cancer screening for its early detection.
“It was seen in the survey that 120 (48 percent) respondents were unaware that people who are thirty to sixty years of age should get their mouth examined by a dentist or doctor or even trained healthcare workers every three years for good oral hygiene and prevention of oral cancer.” Bhagabaty also noted that “it was seen that twelve (4.8 percent) participants did not know that cancer can occur in the mouth or oral cavity while 26 (12.4 percent) respondents were completely unaware that tobacco chewing can cause mouth cancer.
“Of the respondents who were aware, 218 (97.3 percent) responses noted that tobacco in any form was risk factor for mouth cancer, 172 (76.7 percent) responses noted that areca nut chewing, khaini, zarda, etc. consumption can result in mouth cancer, and poor dental hygiene as risk for mouth cancer was seen in 120 (53.5 percent) [of] responses.”
BCCI director Amal Chandra Kataki said “the idea of conducting the survey is to understand the level of awareness among the general public on three common cancers in our population, namely, oral, breast, and uterine cervical cancers. The results of the other two surveys will be out soon. The high proportion of people in the present survey were unaware about regular or timely visits for oral health check-ups, which means most of our population has poor oral health.”
The concerings are alarming given, as my colleague Nicholas Parry recently reported for Health Issues India, a “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.”
Oral cancer is one of India’s most common forms of the disease. As a study published last year found, “globally, oral cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer with India contributing to almost one-third of the total burden and the second country having the highest number of oral cancer cases…tobacco consumption including smokeless tobacco, betel-quid chewing, excessive alcohol consumption, unhygienic oral condition, and sustained viral infections that include the human papillomavirus are some of the risk aspects for the incidence of oral cancer. Lack of knowledge, variations in exposure to the environment, and behavioral risk factors indicate a wide variation in the global incidence and increases the mortality rate.”
As Health Issues India reported 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.” As we reported on the occasion of World Cancer Day last year
“In 2018, 784,821 lives were lost to cancer in India with men accounting for 413,519 of these deaths and women for 371,302. Lip and oral cavity, lung, stomach, colorectal and esophageal cancers are the most common forms of the disease among men. Among women, the most common cancers are breast, lip and oral cavity, cervical, lung, and gastric. “Cancer is on the rise in India, a trend aligned with the growing incidence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) as a whole. By 2040, cases are expected to number at approximately twenty lakh compared to almost 11.6 lakh at present. In 2018, it was reported that India’s cancer burden had more than doubled in the preceding 26 years.”
Oral cancer awareness is key to stemming its spread. The research by the BCCI is a snapshot of a much wider issue, which includes access to screening for early detection, knowledge of preventative methods, timely treatment, and oncologists who are in short supply throughout the country. As one article by Cytecare.com notes, “when diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate [for oral cancer] is above eighty percent whereas it’s less than twenty to thirty percent [for] advanced [stages] of the disease, unfortunately, the majority are detected in advanced stages.” These grim statistics mean that oral cancer awareness, for the state of Assam and the country as a whole, is the need of the hour.