HomePoliticsPeaceIndia's Battle Against Cancer: A Metastatic Problem

India's Battle Against Cancer: A Metastatic Problem

Each year, between 600,000 and 700,000 people in India die of cancer. Several factors contribute to this, including unequal access to health care, overuse of tobacco, and late diagnosis. Less than 1/3 of patients with cancer will survive after diagnosis. If the problem is not dealt with soon, the death toll is expected to rise to 1.2 million deaths per year by 2035.

Tracing the Causes

The recent report on India’s growing cancer problem identifies three main causes for this trend

1) Geographical distribution makes it harder to provide equal access to medical treatment. 95% of medical colleges do not provide comprehensive cancer care. India only has 2000 fully trained cancer specialists, roughly 1 for every 5000 cancer patients. As a result, urban centers are overcrowded and lack many necessary resources. People living in rural areas are affected the most, because they do not have access to cancer care facilities.

2) Cancer is more easily treated if diagnosed in the early stages. However, because roughly 40% of cancer care centers are under equipped to treat and diagnose cancer, 70-80% of patients are diagnosed after the point of effective treatment. Under 30% of these diagnosed patients will live over 5 years after being diagnosed.

3) Finally, the growing use of tobacco in India contributes to the rising death toll. 40% of cancer cases are a direct result of tobacco use. With  275 million Indian Citizens who are tobacco users, if this is not curbed, cancer occurrences will continue to go up.

The Solution

Measures are being taken to address the spread of cancer. Last month, a plan was approved for the government to invest money in improving cancer care centers. Additionally, the National Cancer Program has implemented more education on the dangers of tobacco usage and the important of checkups in diagnosing and preventing cancer and other diseases. However, more can be done to solve the problem.  First, the government should invest more in cancer research. Given the resources India has, if more treatments are developed, the easier it will be to provide affordable care. With the amount of talented scientists India has, any discoveries will also have a profound global impact. Second, India will need to fund a public cancer care system. Currently only 1.2% of the GDP is spent on public health care. More money will need to be inputted in order to help a wider array of people. Finally, work should be done to lower the cost of expensive procedures so all people, regardless of income, will have a chance to survive this deadly disease. If India continues to take part in the fight against cancer, maybe one day all patients will live to tell their stories.

[Image Attribute: Steven Depolo]
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