There has been a 324% increase in the number of patients diagnosed with cancers of the oral cavity, breast and cervix at state run Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) clinics in India between 2017 and 2018. The figure is alarming. 2018 alone saw 1.6 lakh cancer cases detected as opposed to a mere 39,000 in 2017.
Most people are caught unaware of the condition usually late into the disease stage due to the stealthy operating mechanism of most cancers. Symptoms may go unnoticed for a long time. A case in point is the low survival rate of Indian breast cancer patients at a mere 66.1% as opposed to their counterparts in the U.S. and Australia at 90 percent. This was revealed in a global study across 71 countries analyzing data from 2000 to 2014. It highlights how the early detection of cancer coupled with greater cancer awareness can be a game-changer.
Routine breast cancer screening is normal in developed countries as a part of their healthcare system. While in India, treating cancers becomes a tough task, due to detection in the third or fourth stages when chances of survival are reduced. Ignorance about the disease as well as unavailability of screening programs increases the magnitude of the problem.
This lack of cancer awareness results in a higher mortality rate of those diagnosed with cancer. Compared to the 25% in developed countries, almost 50-60% patients die of breast cancer in India. That is almost twice the number of deaths. More people can be cured even after being diagnosed with this life-threatening disease with the early detection of cancer and go on to lead normal lives.
One of the main reasons why people succumb to death due to cancer is also because they are unprepared for it. In a country where insurance penetration itself is low, cancer insurance is unheard of. As a result, when the high cost of treatment raises its head suddenly, most people are not able to afford it. They spend their life’s savings trying to fight against cancer, and finally give in. This lack of financial resources at a time of need is also to blame for such poor survival rates.
As per the WHO, early detection of cancer with effective diagnostics, increased cancer awareness in the general public along with a well-equipped health ecosystem that includes well trained health workers is the key to better management of the disease. Countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have some of the highest survival rate for the most lethal cancers. India has also stepped up its efforts with the launch of national program for screening of oral, breast and cervical cancers, guidelines for which were first released in the end of 2016.
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