Regarding treatment options, we do have facilities and hospitals on par with the best in the world. However, we have some of the worst options too.
India has a high burden of cancer, with annual incidence of about 1,000,000 new cases. However, this statistics is not beyond criticism, mainly since our tumour registry is incomplete. To be precise, we do not have a convincing epidemiological data about the incidence and prevalence of various cancers across the country. Therefore, we do not have strategies to fight the disease.
Cancer treatment aims at prevention, early detection, cure, prolongation of survival, rehabilitation, and palliation. Of all cancers, 30 per cent are preventable. Tobacco use, alcohol abuse and unbalanced diet are the areas under discussion in the prevention of cancer. In fact, tobacco and alcohol should be banned, but so far we have been unable to achieve this mission. Health education has never been a part of our curriculum because of which, the value of a proper diet and regular exercises are unknown to us and our children. In short, health has never been a priority for us. Restrictions on the use of pesticides and fertilisers are still a plan than reality.
Also, 30 per cent cancers are screenable and can be detected early, thereby ensuring a high chance for cure. However, in our country, we do not have scheduled screening programmes for public. We lack knowledge and facilities for screening as well. Our approach is primitive in preventive and screening strategies.
Regarding treatment options, we do have facilities and hospitals on par with the best in the world. However, we have some of the worst options too. In other words, there is no standardisation and quality control. The cost of cancer treatment is so high that a common man cannot afford it and insurance and government supports are only for a small group. We should be able to manufacture and market all anti-cancer drugs and provide them at a cheaper rate as a generic drug. The government should have a control in manufacturing and pricing of these drugs. We lack the manpower too. There is a scarcity of oncologists in our country.
We lack in basic research and have apprehension for all clinical trials. Hence, many drugs that proved effective in early trials are not available to the patients in our country. Also, palliative treatment and rehabilitation measures are yet to catch up and get standardised.
But we are improving. We are marching forward in every field of cancer treatment, but much more need to be done.
Dr. V.P. Gangadharan is Senior Consultant and HOD of Medical and Pediatric Oncology, Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, Kerala