"Cancer is now overtaking heart attack. More than 60 per cent of the people consuming tobacco in smoke and smokeless forms could have head and neck cancer" said Dr. Thomas Varghese

Head and neck cancer cases in the city constitute a significant part of total cancer cases, say medical experts.

“Head and neck cancer accounts for about 30 per cent of the cancer cases in Kochi. There is also a rise in tongue cancer cases,” said Dr. Subramania Iyer, director of the Head and Neck Institute at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi.

He said that National Doctor’s Day, which is celebrated on July 1 every year in India to commemorate the birth anniversary of eminent physician, educationist, and freedom fighter Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, will be in the backdrop of Kerala’s dubious distinction of having one of the highest reported incidences of head and neck cancers in the world.

The trend was revealed in the triennial report (2003-2006) of the Head and Neck Institute, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Kochi.

“Cancer is now overtaking heart attack. More than 60 per cent of the people consuming tobacco in smoke and smokeless forms could have head and neck cancer,” said Dr. Thomas Varghese, senior consultant, Surgical Oncology, and the head of department of Cancer and Reconstructive Surgery Division, Lakeshore hospital.

“People usually get admitted only after the cancer has reached an advanced stage, when the damage has been done. Continuous cough and change in the tone and pitch of the voice should be seen as indicators of cancer. In such cases one should see a doctor immediately,” said Dr. Thomas, who is also the president of Kerala Cancer Care Society.

Both Dr. Iyer and Dr. Thomas agreed that the ban on the production, storage, distribution and sale of tobacco-based products in the State under the Food, Security and Regulation Act, 2011, which came into force on May 25, was a step in the right direction.

Heightened risk

In a study conducted by Dr. Thomas in Kolenchery, he found out that pan masala mixed with broken glass pieces were sold in sachets.

This technique was used by dealers to make sure tobacco entered the body intravenously, which heightened craving for nicotine in the user.

Dr. Iyer pointed out that the facilities available in the State to treat cancer, especially in the poorer regions, were inadequate. “The government should allocate funds to private institutions to treat cancer. Government health institutions cannot cater to the whole load of patients,” Dr. Iyer said.

Dr. Thomas said that apart from tobacco, a sharp tooth that irritates the cheek and the tongue could also cause head and neck cancer. Genetic interferences and Human papillomavirus (HPV), spread through oral sex, could also lead to head and neck cancer.

According to the cancer registry data, around 35,000 new cases of cancer are registered every year in the State. The Regional Cancer Institute, Thiruvanathapuram, which attends to more than one third of the registered cancer cases in Kerala, states in its 2011-2012 annual report that it registered 13,230 new cases in the report period.

More In: Kochi | Health | Sci-Tech