Monday, February 04, 2013

Cancer: Looking beyond

Dhiyanesh Ravichandran.

Today is World Cancer Day. Cancer is not just a health problem, but has far-reaching repercussions - Social, economic, development and human rights.

During one of my visit to my home few years back, my grandfather was present there for a medical check-up and had serious complaints about his stomach. Then we were told that he is suspected with a possible stomach cancer by doctors and latter confirmed almost. Doctors told us that we were too late and pointed the healthy-walking man may collapse in few weeks. We did not lose hope and went for further treatments. I left home for hostel and came back after a month or so, I was shocked to see him. Then my next trip to home was for his funeral. It was exactly three months and I have no one now who would take me out in his scooter for a spin.

I thought that cancer was nothing but a death sentence, only to be dispelled as a myth latter. But the statistics may seem so, it accounts for 7.6 million deaths (13%) globally in 2008. Lung, stomach, liver, colon, breast and cervical cancer are the most occurring. It is important to recognise that cancer is not just a health issue. It has far-reaching social, economic, development and human rights repercussions. This is primarily because of the fact that about 47% of cancer cases and 55% of cancer deaths take place in less developed nations. It is also predicted that by 2030, 60-70% of the speculated 21.4 million new cancer cases annually will transpire in developing countries. 

As of now, around 85% of the 275,000 women who die every year from cervical cancer hail from developing countries. The survival rate of breast cancer is also poor in such countries. The report from The Lancet Oncology states that worldwide breast cancer incidence and mortality are expected to increase by 50 percent from 2002 and 2020 -- and those rates will be highest developing nations. Women often do not seek out screening, because they don't know that breast cancer treatments actually exist. Neither the diagnosing facilities are spread equitably. 

Cancer is also a cause and an effect of poverty. It negatively impacts families' propensity to bring in an income and save. Treatment costs are so exorbitant and with inequitable access to public health facilities, families are trapped in abject poverty. Lack of education and healthcare awareness increases the risk of late detection and dying from it. 

Throughout the developing world, most health systems are designed to cope with episodes of infectious disease. Most developing countries do not have the financial resources, facilities, equipment, technology, infrastructure, staff, or training to cope with chronic care for cancers. If left unaddressed, deaths from cancer in the developing world are forecast to grow to 6.7 million in 2015 and 8.9 million in 2030. In contrast, cancer deaths in wealthy countries are expected to remain fairly stable over the next twenty years.

With right strategies and facilities, it is said that one-third of cancer deaths can be prevented. Making the treatment affordable and available to everyone can be a significant step towards cancer. Private investments on researches on cancer cures must be encouraged. Whole humanity must take up the responsibility.