Nearly half of head and neck cancer patients die within a year of diagnosis: doc

Over 1.7 lakh new cases are reported every year of which 76% are males; many patients come for treatment only after cancer has reached advanced stage

July 28, 2018 11:40 pm | Updated July 29, 2018 01:22 pm IST - New Delhi

Head and neck (mouth, larynx, throat or nose) cancers account for a large portion of the total number of cancer cases reported in India, and nearly half of the patients with such type of cancers die within a year of diagnosis, said doctors.

India reports 1.75 lakh new cases of head and neck cancers every year — 76% of cases are reported in males and 24% in females.

Nearly 70% of head and neck cancers are related to consumption of tobacco, areca nut and alcohol, said Harit Chaturvedi, cancer surgeon and chairman of Max Oncology. “Unfortunately, these causative agents are freely available either due to weak policy or implementation, or absence of it,” Dr. Chaturvedi said on the occasion of World Head and Neck Cancer Day on July 27.

Be aware

Doctors have urged people to stay away from tobacco as it is a major cause of head and neck cancers. In India, consumption of chewing tobacco is more prevalent than smoking cigarettes or bidis. Doctors said that nearly 90% of oral and throat cancers are due to tobacco use.


India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of people consuming chewing tobacco in the world. It is a cheap and easily available addiction and its growing consumption in the last two decades has contributed to alarming rise in oral cancer, said doctors.

Pankaj Chaturvedi, professor of Surgical Oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital, said the situation is alarming, and that a preventive approach is needed to tackle the problem. ‘Pledge for Life’ is a campaign that aims at making all educational institutes tobacco-free so that children do not use tobacco, he said.

Dr. Chaturvedi added that the focus of all preventive measures should be on the youth “in order to have a healthy society”. “Over 13 lakh people are dying in India every year due to tobacco use, which is a major cause of cancer.” he said.

Saurabh Gupta, a consultant (Surgical Oncology) at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Shalimar Bagh, said that tobacco use is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer.

“Increased consumption of chewing tobacco, gutka and betel nut have led to a rise in cases of mouth cancer. Frequent consumption of alcohol has also raised the risk of developing mouth cancer. A combination of heavy smoking and alcohol consumption can compound the risk,” said Dr. Gupta.

Doctors said that nearly 70% of oral cancers are located in the ‘buccogingival sulcus’ area, where the betel quid/chewing tobacco is kept for long periods in the oral cavity. This leads to cancer of gums and cheeks, said doctors.

“In most cases, delay in seeking medical advise severely reduces the rate of treatment success. Many patients only come for treatment in advanced stages. The most effective treatment for head and neck cancers is surgery, with or without radiotherapy,” said Dr. Gupta

He added that chemotherapy is used only in advanced or widespread disease for symptomatic improvement. Head and neck cancers usually do not spread to other parts of the body very early, and surgery is possible in most cases. The cure rates range from 85%-90% in early stages, but drops to 30%-40% in advanced cases.

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