9.6 million people will die of cancer this year

Two reports released on the same day say that cancer is the second biggest killer in India, which will see 8.17 per cent of cancer deaths in the world this year

By Kiran Pandey, Rajit Sengupta
Published: Monday 17 September 2018

Breast cancer incidence has gone up by 39.1 per cent between 1990 and 2016, says the Lancet study. Credit: James Palinsad/Flickr Cancer will claim 9.6 million lives in the world this year and India’s share in it will be a worrying 8.17 per cent, warns data recently released by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer. Another report released within a gap of few hours by Lancet reinforced the gloomy prediction about the disease saying it is India’s second biggest killer after heart disease.

While the WHO data shows India’s position in the global cancer burden, the Lancet report compares the incidence of non-communicable diseases within India between 1990 and 2016.

The IARC report shows a breakup of new cancer cases that will be diagnosed in India in 2018. Credit: IARC

The WHO data says India will have 1.16 million new cancer cases this year and more than 50 per cent of these will be diagnosed in women. Or, precisely 17,204 more women will fall prey to the disease than men. Moreover, breast cancer incidence has gone up by 39.1 per cent between 1990 and 2016 and is the most common cancer among women in India, accounting for the largest crude incidence rate and prevalence of any cancer type, says the Lancet report.

Also, IARC says that while cancer in lip, oral cavity (16.1 per cent) and lung (8.5 per cent) are the most common in Indian men, in women they are most found in breasts (27.7 per cent) and cervix uteri (16.5 per cent).

Cancer incidence

The Lancet report goes on to add that between 1990 and 2016 the number of cancer deaths in India increased by 112 per cent. At the same time, the incidence of cancer cases also increased by 48.7 per cent. The report also highlights that in 2016, the country had 67,000 lung cancer patients, of which 72.2 per cent were men, and liver cancer also increased by 32.2 per cent since 1990 with 30,000 cases being reported in 2016.

Book review: Here's a brief history of medical research in the field of cancer

Also, certain types of cancer are becoming bigger threats in India. From being the fourth most common type in 1990, breast cancer is now the top most common cancer in 2016. This may be due to risk factors like – women giving first birth at a later age and increasing obesity. Similarly, prostate cancer has now become the 10th most common cancer from 17th in 1990.

What causes cancer?

Tobacco use is a risk factor for 14 types of cancer, says the Lancet report. The other equally worrying triggers include alcohol and drug use (eight cancer types) and poor diet (eight cancer types). It adds that unsafe sex is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer type in women. It attributes the high incidence of lung cancer to tobacco use and air pollution.

The two studies are eye openers and must be taken into account while strengthening the infrastructure and human resources for cancer prevention and control at both national and state levels.

Here are the risk factors that contribute to cancer Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in India, according to the Lancet study.

The Lancet study especially calls for focus on the 10 cancers contributing the highest Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in India, including cancers of the stomach, lung, pharynx other than nasopharynx, colon and rectum, leukaemia, oesophageal, and brain and nervous system, in addition to breast, lip and oral cavity, and cervical cancer, which are currently the focus of screening and early detection programmes. It has also raised concern over the data gaps and has suggested that cancer registry should increase in rural areas too.

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