he Indian Council of Medical Research recently projected that India might register over 17 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8 lakh deaths because of the disease by 2020.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality among adults in India. In 2016, about 14 lakh cases of cancer were recorded, as mentioned in an article by carehospitals.org.
Among these recorded cases, it is more of women than men, who have been diagnosed with cancer, with the most common forms being breast, lung and cervical cancer.
Statistics on how cancer strikes more women
As stated on the website cancerindia.org, ”One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India,” while, ”For every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India.”
The fact that more number of women have cancer than men in India reverses the global trend, which sees a 25 per cent higher cancer incidence of men than women.
According to a recently released World Cancer Report, 5.37 lakh Indian women were diagnosed with cancer in 2012, as compared to 4.77 lakh men. On the other hand, death caused by cancer is higher among men, as compared to women.
In yet another report titled Call for Action: Expanding cancer care for women in India, 2017, cancer among women was estimated at 0.7 million, thus accounting for third highest cancer cases among women, after China and the US, an article by Times of India mentioned.
Why more women?
As alarming as the statistics may look, a question that bothers one more is why there are more number of Indian women than men who are diagnosed with cancer.
Breast cancer, cervical, ovarian and uterine cancer account for 70 per cent of cancer cases among women in India, mentions Soutik Biswas, in an article in BBC.
Breast cancer alone accounts for 27 per cent of all cases among women, less than 10 per cent of which are inherited.
Biswas talks about a study published in The Lancelot Oncology, according to which the peak age of the onset of breast and ovarian cancer in India is at 45-50 years in India. This is a decade younger than the peak age–which is 60 years–in high-income countries, a development that could be attributed to genetic and environment factors.
Dr Ravi Mehrotra, director of the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, and one of the authors of the study, suggests that the known risk factors for breast cancer include high-fat diet, obesity, late marriage, fewer children, inadequate breast feeding.
Biswas also talks about the incidence of breast cancer being the highest in Delhi. What could be the reason?
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, points out in one of her articles, the general causes behind cancer in South-East Asia. She categorically mentions that apart from unhealthy diet and other lifestyle issues, tobacco use, occupational hazards, and exposure to environmental substances, including outdoor air pollution could be the reason behind cancer.
Both men and women can be subjected to the above factors. What makes it more dangerous for women is mainly lack of awareness, for which they may be diagnosed late, or their reluctance to visit a doctor.
Again, it is women who are subjected to more medical attention during their lifespan as compared to men. ”Women are subjected to more medical attention in their lifespan as compared to men. From antenatal checkup, menopause problems and menstrual disorder, women get investigated and, by default, screened for cancer. Therefore, cancers are picked up at an earlier stage and mortality is less,” informs Dr Rakesh Kapoor, department of radiotherapy at PGIMER, Chandigarh, in an article in Times of India.
Another pressing issue among women in India is poor menstrual hygiene. According to soothehealthcare.com, only 12 per cent of women in India use sanitary pads, thanks to the taboo surrounding menstruation and thereby lack of accessibility to adequate sanitation.
Unhygienic practises can lead to fungal infections, Reproductive Tract Infection and Urinary Tract Infection, thereby causing cervical cancer.
How to solve the problem
What is required now is to increase awareness about cancer. It is important to encourage people to undergo regular health check-ups, while motivating them to lead a healthy lifestyle. More and more women and men should be given access to adequate cancer treatment and services.