Farah Khatoon
Head of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Dr Partha Basu talks about the fatal disease, how it effects the country and measures to combat it.
What is the scenario of cervical cancer in the city?
Our institute receives 600-700 cases a year, out of which 90 per cent are in the advanced stage. India has one-fourth of the total number of cervical cancer patients with nearly 13,2000 women being diagnosed. Nearly 75,000 women in the prime of their lives, who run households and keep the family together succumb to the disease each year.
How can we combat cervical cancer in India?
Infrastructural development is the main way to combat it. The highest percentage of women affected by cervical cancer is found in low resource settings. Countries with efficient systems of screening, detecting and treating pre-cancerous lesions have been able to prevent cervical cancer and reduce mortality rates. Rural women in India are more prone to the disease because of early marriage and lack of awareness.
How far is the government responsible?
We are having ‘preventable deaths’. The rate of death during child birth and cervical cancer is almost the same in India but cervical cancer is never prioritised. Low-cost tests are available which would help in detecting the disease at an early stage. There is no dearth of funds but it remains unutilised. Even a country like Bangladesh can adopt a National Cancer Control Programme but we seem to be lacking in that area.
What is prohibiting the urban educated class from combating this disease?
A survey among the urban educated section revealed that only 25 per cent of the couple surveyed knew about the disease, so an awareness is needed. Though the screening is cheap as it comes for Rs 250 but the vaccine comes for Rs 9000. So it acts as a deterrent. Moreover, women hesitate to address their grievances because it is related to their private parts. However, cost can come down if more private pharmaceutical companies are involved and vaccination programmes can be organised through donations.
How is it an economic burden on India?
The burden of the disease in India is enormous with nearly 1,32,000 women being diagnosed every year. This could be avoided as it is a great economical as well as social burden. These deaths affect the family and the society at large. It is estimated that if a cervical cancer prevention programme is not introduced, these figures will double by 2020, taking a toll on families, society in entirety and of course on women themselves.
Is it a genetically transferable disease?
No. It is a sexually transferable disease. Infections are common but the infections might manifest itself into cervical cancer in the later part of life.
Can it be prevented? How?
It can be prevented in two ways: firstly, by vaccines and secondly by detecting the cancer at the pre-cancer stage.