Head and Neck Cancer Comprises 17% of New Cancer Cases, Experts Warn of Tobacco Intake

Head and Neck Cancer Comprises 17% of New Cancer Cases, Experts Warn of Tobacco Intake

"India is considered the head and neck cancer capital of the world."

Sachin TUpdated: Tuesday, March 19, 2024, 12:32 PM IST
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India is grappling with a significant burden of head and neck cancer, constituting a majority of global cases. Particularly vulnerable are the underprivileged sections of the society, notably workers and labourers, due to the rampant tobacco consumption. The importance of preventive programs to detect the disease early was emphasized at the 22nd annual RGCON 2024, themed 'Head and Neck Cancer: Bridging the Gap from Cure to Survivorship', hosted by the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre (RGCIRC).

“Head & neck cancer has become a major problem for Asia. It is a poor man’s disease, chief reasons being smokeless tobacco and smoking. India reports about 1.5 million new cancer cases annually.

“ In 2022, our cancer hospital registered about 3,000 cases of head and neck cancers, which constitute 19% of all cancers. But less than 30 per cent patients undergo surgery as our focus is on multi-modal treatment,” said Dr. AK Dewan, Director, Surgical Oncology at the 22nd annual RGCON 2024. The event which was themed ‘Head and Neck Cancer: Bridging the Gap from Cure to Survivorship’ was hosted by the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre (RGCIRC) here at the national capital.

Head and neck cancers

HNC typically consists of anatomical sub-sites like tongue, mouth, other parts of the pharynx like oropharynx, nasopharynx, hypopharynx, salivary glands, nasal cavity, larynx (voice box), etc. "India is considered the head and neck cancer capital of the world. Head and neck cancer (HNC) accounts for about 17 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancer cases in India of which mouth cancer in males is most common in India."

"The lifestyle of people, particularly in the northern regions, where smoking or chewing tobacco is common, is a significant cause of the high burden of head and neck cancer," Dr Mudit Agarwal, Unit Head & Senior Consultant, Head & Neck Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC), told news agency IANS.

"HNC accounts for 27.5 per cent of all cancers in India"

"Compared to the Western countries (with a prevalence of 4 per cent), HNC accounts for 27.5 per cent of all cancers in India. These cancers are most common in our male population and are fourth in incidence among females," added Dr Ashish Gupta, Chief Oncologist, Unique Hospital Cancer Centre, Delhi who is heading Cancer Mukt Bharat Campaign in India. The experts blamed changing lifestyles, increased longevity, and addiction to tobacco and alcohol.

"Tobacco (smoked or chewable forms), alcohol, areca nut (pan masala), and dietary malnutrition are common etiological factors which are also important downstream social determinants. Heavy users of both tobacco and alcohol have a 35-fold higher risk of head and neck cancers," Dr Ashish told IANS. In India, unfortunately, 60-70 per cent of patients come at an advanced stage, as a consequence of which most receive radical treatment which may be disfiguring to some extent.

However, with medical advancements like jaw reconstruction surgery, computer-assisted 3D designing technology, and facial reanimation techniques, the treatment now emphasises patient rehabilitation, Mudit said.

(With additional information from news agency IANS)

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