‘Most cancer deaths are preventable if detected early'

Contrary to the perception that cancer mortality is higher in urban areas, a recent study published in The Lancet said the death rate is similar in both urban and rural areas.

The study, pointing to an interpretation that literacy can prevent cancer deaths, said mortality rates were two times higher in the least-educated than in the most-educated adults.

Conducted between 2001 and 2003 — based on the methodology of verbal autopsies (door-to-door survey), the study covered a sample size of 1,22,429 deaths across the country.

The authors found that 7,137 of the study deaths were due to cancer.

Some 5,56,400 cancer deaths were recorded in the country in 2010.

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Arun Shet, Head of the Department of Medical Oncology at St. John's Medical College Hospital, one of the authors of the study, made a presentation on the findings at the Dean's Lecture Series held at the hospital on Friday. The programme was organised by St. John's Academy of Health Science in collaboration with the Centre for Global Health Research.

Rural population

Pointing out that the study had for the first time included cancer deaths among India's rural population, Dr. Shet said: “So far cancer mortality was estimated on the basis of data from India's 24 urban population-based cancer registries, of which only two [included] rural areas.”

The study had concluded that most cancer deaths among Indians — oral cavity, breast, cervical — were preventable if detected early. The north-eastern States of India had the highest cancer mortality rates in India, Dr. Shet said.

Pointing out the tobacco-related cancers and cervical cancer are the important causes of death among working people in India, Dr. Shet said the study provided a reliable number of tobacco-related deaths in each State.

The mortality rates of breast cancer in the rural and urban areas were similar.

Cervical cancer was found to be 40 per cent less common among Muslim women. “Circumcision among Muslim men, which reduces the sexual transmission of human papilloma virus (HPV), is the likely explanation,” he added.