Why are cancer cases on rise in India? Here are the reasons

alex brown

Do you also sometimes wonder why so many people are getting diagnosed with cancer despite science having made considerable advancements in the field of cancer research, prevention and treatment? Now the latest cancer report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics and […]

Do you also sometimes wonder why so many people are getting diagnosed with cancer despite science having made considerable advancements in the field of cancer research, prevention and treatment? Now the latest cancer report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR), Bengaluru confirms the sharp increase in India’s cancer cases, estimating that it could further increase by 12% in the next five years.

When asked to share his thoughts on the report, Dr Suresh Advani, senior medical oncologist, Hinduja Hospital Khar, who pioneered hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in India said, “I am not surprised at all! We have been noticing the rise for many years now and we have not done anything to prevent the occurrence of cancer. Tobacco related cancers are estimated to contribute 27% of the total cancer burden in India, yet tobacco is readily available, so are cigarettes.”

Going by the statistics revealed in the National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020, the cancer incidence in men is estimated to be 679,421 in 2020 and 763,575 in 2025, while among women, it is estimated to be 712,758 in 2020 and 806,218 in 2025. The report further highlighted that oral, lung and colorectal cancers were the most common cancers among men.

When we talk about the greater incidence of cancer in India, it is also important to know that cancer as a disease mostly affects the senior population. Higher life expectancy means higher cancer rates. Dr Sanjay Dudhat, Head of surgical oncology, Nanavati Hospital explains, “Longer life expectancy is a big contributor to the overall cancer incidence in India. As people age, they are immunocompromised and often succumb to cancer risks.” Simply put, as we grow old, our bodies have longer time to allow faults to build up and as the body accumulates more of these faults in our genes, the risk of cancer goes up considerably.

Having said that, Dr Dudhat clarifies that cancer is increasingly becoming prevalent in the younger age group as well, which is an extremely worrisome trend. “There was a time when I mostly used to see elderly cancer patients but I have recently operated 15 breast cancer cases in the age group of 23- 30 years.” It needs to be understood that cancer spreads far rapidly in a young body as compared to an elderly’s. If the current rate continues, we could be witnessing an epidemic of cancer by 2050.

Specific cancer has specific reasons

No cancer has a single cause, they all are multifactorial, just like diabetes and heart ailments. Dr. Sujata Mittal, Senior Gynaecologist Oncologist and holistic cancer coach shares that there are multiple causes behind increase in cancer cases in India. Some of them are adoption of western lifestyle, improper dietary habits, dairy (due to rBGH, FSH, LH in milk production), processed foods, food additives, non-vegetarian diets, chemical pollution, constipation and lack of exercise.

Dr Mehul Bhansali, Director Surgical Oncology, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre highlights the increased occurrence of breast cancer, which is majorly contributing to the overall cancer numbers in India. “Poor lifestyle, longer working hours, increasingly stressful lives, smoking, alcohol consumption, use of contraception, are all contributing to breast cancer cases. Moreover, women live longer than men and that also goes on to increase their chances of getting cancer.”

Early diagnosis and prevention

Another prominent reason we are witnessing a rapid growth in cancer numbers is because there are more cancer screening facilities available, even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Regular screenings and early diagnosis also increases the likelihood of fighting the disease.

While we know that an active lifestyle is important to avoid cancer, some of the other non negotiating rules are – no smoking, no tobacco chewing, avoiding processed foods, daily exercise and last but not the least, meditation. “While we don’t have exact data on the impact of stress on the occurrence of cancer, there is convincing evidence that stress leading to hypertension can wreak havoc in one’s body,” adds Dr Dudhat.

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