The cancer burden in India will double to 20 lakh cases in the next 20 years, mainly due to demographic changes, reveals a new study.
India registered 11.6 lakh cancer cases in 2018, according to GLOBOCAN, World Health Organisation’s cancer-mapping programme.
The impending doubling can be attributed to the ongoing “transitions” in India —from an infectious diseases hub to the capital of several non-communicable diseases and from rural to urban areas, summarises the study.
The study was published in the Journal of Global Oncology.
“Most of the increase in patients with cancer in India is attributable to its epidemiologic transition and the improvement and increased use of cancer diagnostics in India,” says the author Dr Mohandas K Mallath, Senior Consultant, Tata Cancer Centre, Kolkata.
Approximately 40% to 50% of cancers are due to random mutations during DNA replications and the longer a person lives, the higher the chances of accumulation of the random mutations.
“If you don’t die at a young age due to infection or trauma, then the chances of dying at an older age from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, will increase,” he said.
The three reasons for the “absolute increase in cancer numbers in the country” owes to population increase, increase in life expectancy and, most importantly economic transition, opined Dr Rajendra Badwe, Director of Tata Memorial Centre in Parel.
“In the past two decades, life expectancy has increased by 10 years,” said Dr Badwe. Considering that the incidence of cancer in the 54-64 age group is almost twice that in the 34-44 age group, this is a major contributor. Moreover, cancer incidence shows a massive difference in urban-rural terms.
Every census shows that 10% of rural areas transition to semi-urban areas and another 5% of semi-urban areas to urban areas, leading to an increase in cancer rates.
The study underlines the need to pay more attention to cancer. “Public cancer facilities in India are woefully inadequate, and there is large presence of private cancer care facilities. Some have exploited this situation by selling vulnerable patients unproven therapies to prevent, cure or control cancer. As a result of the great increase in cancer, all public cancer treatment facilities are overcrowded and teeming with patients, resulting in India’s cancer problem being called an epidemic or a tsunami,” said the authors.
The total cancer burden is projected to double by 2040 to about 2 million cases. “If cancer diagnosis catches up in rural India due to Ayushman Bharat and all elderly and invalid patients are subjected to CT scans and FNACs (fine needle aspiration cytology) many more cancers will be diagnosed and the burden will increase further,” said Dr Mallath.