The cancer rate in India is still lower than more advanced nations, such as USA. India’s rate is 100 cases per 100,000 people compared with 300 in the US.
The explanation that can be given to this is much higher percentage of younger people compared to most advanced nations, as it is known that cancer is more prevalent among the more aged people. However, the survival rate in India is much poorer with not more than one-third of the cancer patients survive beyond 5 years after being diagnosed.
Another feature of cancer patients where India is an anomaly is more cases of women with cancer in India compared to otherwise in most other countries. According to a new study published in The Lancet Oncology, men have the higher incidence of cancer worldwide by about 25 percent.
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However, in terms of fatality, there are more deaths with men compared to women. This can also be explained with breast, cervical, ovarian and uterine cancer accounting for over 70 percent of the cancers in women in India that usually have higher survival chance. On the other hand, the most common types of cancer in men in India are lung or oral cancer, which are related to smoking and ingesting tobacco having lower survival chance compared to the types of cancer common in women.
The breast cancer has been the most common type of cancer in India among women. However, compared to US, the breast cancers are diagnosed at a much later stage in India resulting in the higher fatality rate.
In the US, for example, 80% of breast cancers are diagnosed relatively early in the first and second stages. In India, most of the breast cancers are diagnosed in the third and fourth stages.
The only silver lining, say, oncologists, is that 60% of those with breast cancer in India survive for five years.
“But we still don’t know fully why women are reporting such a high rate of breast cancer,” says Dr. Mehrotra, director of the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research.
Considering that India spends a meager 1.2% of GDP on healthcare, which is paltry compared to the developed nations, India is increasingly fighting a losing battle against the prevalence and treatment of cancer. The cancer control program in India was launched in 1976 without adequate funds. Although, the things have improved till date, still India’s focus on healthcare, including cancer, is below of what is needed to fight a meaningful battle with the disease.
However, the silver lining is that this year, the government will launch free cancer screening for oral, breast and cervical cancer in 165 of the country’s 700 districts.
“Things are looking up,” says Dr. Mehrotra. “But we have a long way to go. We still have a long way to go before we solve the many riddles.”