Obstetricians and gynaecologists can be considered the primary physicians to treat cancer in women, V. Shanta, chairperson of Cancer Institute, Adyar, said here on Friday. Inaugurating a workshop on ‘Cancer prevention and early detection: indispensable to patient care' organised by the Institute and the Obstetric and Gynaecological Society of Southern India (OGSSI), as part of the World Cancer Day, she said gynaecologists could play a pivotal role in preventing cancers by educating the women who come to them for delivery.

Gynaecologists could use the rapport with their patients to educate them on cancer and influence them to undergo screening. Given the country's population, poor literacy levels and the lack of public awareness, mass screening programmes were not a success, she added. “It is difficult to do mass screening but we can go for opportunistic screening where any woman who is coming for examination of any complaint to a hospital is screened for cancer,” Dr. Shanta said.

The magnitude of the problem is growing and the burden of total new cancers is high, she said. In 1994, about 4.9 lakh people in the country were diagnosed as having cancer, today it is 9.99 lakh, she said.

Though corporate hospitals had seen a fall in the number of pants coming for treatment of advanced cancers, in government hospitals or voluntary institutions, doctors continue to see locally advanced diseases.

Citing the example of the Institute's outreach programme, as part of which women are screened for cervical cancer, Dr. Shanta said hardly 50 per cent of the women who had cancer were willing to come to the hospital for treatment even if they were provided transport. The low educational level of women is a deterrent to educating them, she said. She advised doctors to screen for ovarian cancers when they screen for breast cancer. While breast cancers are found more in urban areas, in rural areas more women present with cervical cancers. Urging doctors to dispel the myth that pain is a symptom of cancer, she said, “Pain is not a symptom of cancer but of grave disease.”

OGSSI President N. Sanjeeva Reddy said the government's programme of cancer prevention had not reached rural areas. He urged doctors to spread the message about the significance of early detection as treatment costs for chemotherapy were higher than surgery. Cancer Institute Director T.G. Sagar said the theme of this year's World Cancer Day is ‘Teaching children and teenagers to avoid UV exposure by being sun smart'.

As part of the Day, students of Madras Medical College and the nursing college, and the staff of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital formed a human chain outside the college premises to create awareness about cancer prevention. Principal Secretary, Health, V.K.Subburaj, participated in the event.

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