A cancer survey in the Kainakary panchayat of the water-logged Kuttanad, conducted in the wake of media reports on an increased prevalence of the disease in the region, has indicated continuing non-availability of pure drinking water and lack of measures to control lifestyle diseases, apart from confirming an above average prevalence of cancer.

A report on the survey, conducted in August last by the Department of Community Medicine of the Alappuzha Medical College, the Regional Prevention of Epidemic and Infectious Diseases (PEID) Cell and the State Disease Control and Monitoring Cell (SDCMC), was handed over to Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy here on Monday.

The survey, covering 8,091 people from 1,809 houses in the seven wards of Kainakary panchayat, found that 91 deaths, making up for 27 per cent of the total 334 deaths in the seven wards from July 2004 to July 2009, were due to cancer.

Dividing the cases into probable and confirmed cases, the survey found that prevalence of self-reported cancer cases in the seven wards was 4.5 cases per 1,000 persons for confirmed cases. The overall prevalence, including both probable and confirmed, stood at 6.3 per 1,000 persons. This was against a State-wide prevalence of 0.92 per 1,000 in 1987 and 2.3 per 1,000 in 1996, as per other authenticated studies.

Interestingly, the survey says it could not confirm media reports that there was an association between cancer deaths/prevalence and pesticide pollution in drinking water, more so because cancer was multi-factorial. However, it quotes various studies to point out that pesticide pollution in Kuttanad was a fact. A three-year Indo-Dutch Study has been quoted to confirm that use of fertilizers and pesticides were 50-75 per cent more in Kuttanad than other regions.

It also points out that over 50 per cent of chemicals used in Kuttanad were highly toxic; that the dose of chemicals used to protect crops here was much higher than that recommended by the Kerala Agricultural University; and that organic tissue sample of fish and shrimp showed levels of pesticide to be 10 times admissible toxic levels.

The survey has recommended regular reviewing of cancer cases here with primary health centres to register and review the cases every month; focused cancer control measures; screening of specific cancers and training for women on breast self examination; spreading of awareness; ensuring palliative care to terminally ill cancer patients; rain water harvesting; further research studies; and regular assessment of pesticide levels in water.

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