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Big C set to be biggest killer in two years

The Times of India
04 February 2009
Mumbai, India

Call it the bite of the Big C. With growing westernisation, the boomtowns of India are seeing increasing cases of various forms of cancer, said doctors on the occasion of World Cancer Day on Wednesday.

According to the update in the National Registry of Cancer by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), cancer of the colon, breasts and oesophagus are particularly on the rise. The ICMR registry shows that the incidence of breast cancer is, for the first time, higher than cervical cancer among Mumbai’s women. Cancer of the oral cavity and the gastro-oesophageal channel is on the rise among men.

What is most worrying, said city doctors, is a recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that cancer is all set to outpace heart ailments as the biggest killer in the next two years. According to WHO, cancer diagnoses have been steadily rising and will soon touch the 12 million mark this year. It also suggests that by 2030, new cancer cases could rise to 27 million with up to 17 million deaths. "This is a reality. Age is proving to be a major risk factor these days. With life expectancy having gone up by five to seven years, risk of both cancer and heart diseases has gone up,'' said Dr Rajan Badwe, director of Tata Memorial Hospital.

Dr Badwe, a breast cancer specialist himself, said there has been a phenomenal increase in the incidence of cancer over the last 10 years. "Earlier, we used to see 1,800 new cases of breast cancer every year. But since the last 10 years, 3,200 new patients are being diagnosed with breast cancer at the Tata Memorial Hospital,'' Dr Badwe said. The hospital now sees 25,000 new patients seeking treatment for some form of cancer today as opposed to 15,000 new cases 10 years ago.

The most common form of cancer in India are breast and cervical cancer among women and lung and oral cancer among men. While factors like better hygiene and circumcision have been a major factor in the decline of cervical cancer, incidences of breast, ovarian, lung and oral cancer are all on the rise, said Dr Badwe.

He added that the rate of incidence of cancer in the West is five times more than that in India or any other developing country, but the rate of survival is much higher in the West.

What are the factors contributing to this rise? According to leading oncologists, this is largely due to the changing lifestyle and dietary patterns among urban Indians. People are shunning traditional food that is rich in fibre in favour of fast food.

Moreover, women have fewer babies and lactate for shorter periods than, say, their mothers and grandmothers. This increases the risk of breast cancer among women. However, doctors point out that cancer is, in most cases, preventable if people follow a healthy lifestyle.

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