A gastric cancer help group made up of medical experts and volunteers from different walks of life has been formed at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (GH), to raise awareness on risk factors, healthy lifestyles and early warning symptoms and to ensure speedy access to treatment.

As part of Independence Day celebrations on Thursday, the medical and surgical gastroenterology wings, in association with the medical and radiation oncology departments of the hospital declared the forum open and invited more members of the public were invited to enrol in the group, which plans to meet once in three months. Voluntary association ESO India, (www.esoindia.org) is enabling online membership.

State health secretary, J. Radhakrishnan welcomed the initiative and said to make the public aware of cancer risk factors. citizens must seek healthier options in everyday life, and demand to know the quality of ingredients and cooking oil used by hotels.

S. M. Chandramohan, head of the surgical gastroenterology department at the hospital said, “The effort is to sensitise the public to the real danger of gastric cancer, which remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and the third-most common in women in India. Chennai reports the second-highest incidence of this type of cancer in the country, next only to northeast states such as Mizoram.”

While the incidence of gastric cancer among men in Chennai was 13.8 per lakh population per year from 198 to 1987 and 6.8 per lakh in women, the figures stood at 12.9 and 5.9 respectively in 2009-10, according to data from the Tamil Nadu tumour registry.

The small change witnessed over the years could probably be attributed to factors such as increased use of refrigeration, reduced intake of salted foods and control over Helicobacter pylori (a stomach bacterium) infection.

However, headline risk factors such as the use of tobacco, alcohol, reuse of oil particularly in hotels and roadside eateries and preserved foods were strongly implicated in cancer of the stomach. Besides, stomach cancer runs in families in up to 10 per cent of cases.

Dr. Chandramohan said some countries like Chile, Venezuela and Japan had instituted regular screening programmes for early detection of the cancer. In Tamil Nadu, the full span of treatment ranging from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to laparoscopic surgery was available at GH.

Hospital dean, V. Kanagasabai, gave away prizes to those who participated in the Independence Day competitions. A panel of medical specialists, including head of the department of medical gastroenterology Dr. Mohammed Ali, gastrointestinal surgeon Dr. D. Kannan, and medical oncologist Dr. K. Kalaiselvi took part in a public question and answer session on gastric cancer.

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