Agartala/Aizawl: Incidence of cancer has been rising alarmingly in the hilly northeastern region of India, almost half the cases being attributed to consumption of tobacco products, experts say.
According to experts, Mizoram tops the rate of cancer patients with an incidence of 200 in 100,000 each year. Though other northeastern states have an average of 75 to 125 per 100,000, the numbers are higher than the national average.
Over 900,000 people fall victim to this dreaded disease every year in India, they note.
"Compared to 10 years back, the incidence of cancer is 20 to 30 percent higher in the northeastern region, where people have been leading a multifaceted lifestyle due to locational reasons," they said.
Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) superintendent Gautam Mazumder told IANS: "Tobacco and dietary habits were among the main causes of cancer in the northeastern region."
Tribals, who constitute 27 percent of the northeast`s total population of 45.50 million (2011 census) are traditionally heavy users of different types of tobacco products.
According to the latest report of the union health and family welfare ministry, Mizoram (67.2 percent), Nagaland (56.8 percent) Tripura (55.9 percent) have the highest number of tobacco users in India, while, 34.6 percent of the adult Indian population is the national average for tobacco use.
"Incidence of certain types of cancer like oesophagus, lung, mouth, breast and stomach was relatively higher in the northeast as compared to other parts of the country," said Majumder, head of the RCC in Tripura.
Considering the high incidence of cancer cases here, the central government has been setting up at least one RCC in each of the eight states and upgrading the existing regional centres.
"The union health and family welfare ministry had already recognised Dr. B.B. Cancer Institute, Guwahati, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal (Manipur), Civil Hospital, Mizoram, and the cancer hospital in Agartala as RCCs to provide efficient and cost-effective treatment in the region," a senior Tripura health department official says.
"Besides tobacco and diet habits, consumption of alcohol, pesticide traces in foodstuff and spicy foods were among the main causes of cancer in the region, well-known oncologist Partha Sarathy Sutradhar says.
"Awareness of the causes of cancer and early detection of the infection can reduce the number of cases of the deadly diseases," Sutradhar told IANS.
The health ministry had earmarked 10 percent of the total budget of the National Cancer Control Programme for the northeastern region.
"India needs more than a thousand cancer treatment centres while the country at present has only about 350 such units," says K.A. Dinshaw, director of the Mumbai-based Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital.
"Cancer has emerged as one of the 10 leading causes of death in India," Dinshaw said here at a meeting of oncologists. "It is estimated that there are 2-2.5 million cancer cases at any given time."
There has been a startling 36 per cent rise in the incidence of cancer in Tripura in the past five years.
According to records available with the Tripura RCC, the number of patients registered with the institute in 2006 was 1,263. But the figure increased to 1,386 in 2007, 1,444 in 2008, 1,524 in 2009 and 1,726 in 2010.
According to a recent study by a local social group -- Mizoram Population Base Cancer Registry (MPBCR) -- cancer claims 550 to 600 lives on an average annually in Mizoram, whose total population is just a little over one million.
"The lifestyle of the people of the hilly state, especially their extensive consumption of tobacco coupled with consumption of smoked meat and vegetables, resulted in the high incidence of cancer," the report says.
According to a publication of the National Cancer Registry Programme, Darrang, Kamrup, Dibrugarh, Barpeta and Nalbari districts of northern and western Assam have the highest incidence of cancer.