Are We Sitting on a “Cancer Time Bomb?”

By Dr. Arun Goel in Cancer Care / Oncology , Surgical Oncology

Nov 27 , 2017 | 2 min read

The incidence of cancer is rising in India with nearly 10 lakh new cases occurring each year. Moreover, recent data from ICMR cancer registry projects shows that with this significant increase in cancer cases; we are almost having a cancer epidemic.

It is important to talk about the rising incidence of cancer in India has a gross shortage of cancer facilities as compared to the person’s requirements. Lack of skilled manpower and monetary requirements, shortage of cancer specialists are an increasing concern. It is surprising to know that many cancer patients are being treated by doctors who do not have any specialized training in cancer treatment.   

What does this Imply?

Delay in diagnosis

Most of the cancer patients in India are diagnosed late meaning that most of them are in Stage III and Stage IV. Very small percentages are in Stage I and Stage II. Sometimes patients are responsible for most of the delay due to lack of awareness about cancer. Even when they suspect that they may be having cancer, fear of the disease and diagnosis leads them to avoid going to a specialist and seek opinion.

When the person suspecting cancer decides to seek opinion, they realize that there are no facilities available for cancer diagnosis near them so ultimately they end up seeking advice from family doctors. But an early cancer diagnosis needs an opinion from cancer specialists to undergo tests like CT scan, MRI scan, endoscopies and biopsy testing.  

Unfortunately, diagnosis is further delayed as many patients do not undergo the tests advised by their doctors due to costs, waiting lists or sometimes distance. Also, most people feel that biopsy is harmful and may flare up the disease. Dr. Arun Goel on clearing the myth says, it is the nature of cancer to spread whether a biopsy is carried out or not. Without a biopsy, diagnosis cannot be made, treatment does not get started, thereby spreading the disease to become incurable and the patient loses any chance of cure that was there.  

Is it right to seek unproven therapies?

Another major trend that is very harmful to cancer patients is the fear of anti-cancer therapies such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. These fears are based on experiences of some other patients who have undergone such treatment or often pure hearsay.

Due to fear of one or the other, patients often take treatment from various alternative systems of medicine where unscrupulous practitioners often claim 100% cure rates without doing any diagnostic investigations or tests to find the stage of the disease.

No side effects, a natural source of medicines, and a guarantee of cure give assurance to the patients. Over a period of months, the disease increases and by the time truth sinks in, things have gone far beyond and no curative treatment is available. Even when curative treatment is possible, the stage of the disease has far progressed, thereby reducing the chances of cure.

What is ironic is that there are no legal controls to prevent such unproven therapies and their practitioners from making unrealistic claims. A delay of few weeks is very harmful to most of the cancer patients and can mean the difference between life and death. While “let the buyer beware” is a common strategy applied in law for consumers, when it comes to healthcare, the harm is not just loss of money, it is a loss of life. Thus, government regulations should be there about such unscrupulous practices.