To combat the rising menace of cancer in India, curbing tobacco use is the best way, experts said on Monday ahead of the World No Tobacco Day, observed every year on May 31.
Tobacco is a prominent cause of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and brain stroke. India has the world’s highest incidence of tobacco-related cancer.
The number of Indians suffering from cancer is projected to increase to 29.8 million in 2025 from 26.7 million in 2021, revealed a recent report by the Indian Council for Medical Research.
According to Dr. Dinesh Pendharkar, Director, Sarvodaya Cancer Center at Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad, there are about 15 lakh new cases of cancer in India every year, but 40 per cent of these are caused by tobacco alone.
“If we want to combat the challenge of cancer, our focus should be on radically curbing the consumption of tobacco. This will prevent 5-7 lakh new tobacco-related cases of cancer every year, substantially reducing the cancer burden of the society,” he said.
Tobacco contains nicotine and 4,000 other chemicals which cause cancer not only of the mouth and lungs, but also of food pipe, stomach and kidneys. The impact of tobacco on health goes much beyond cancer as it affects every organ of the body.
While there is a marginal decline in the habit of smoking among Indians in recent years due to the stigma and curbs on smoking. However, this has been compensated by people switching from smoking tobacco to chewing tobacco to meet their nicotine addiction, Pendharkar said.
He noted that Indians are more vulnerable to tobacco-related cancers because it is easy to get addicted to tobacco in the country.
“This is due to the widespread habit of chewing paan (betel nut), which quickly escalates to chewing tobacco. While there is a social taboo against smoking at a young age, no such inhibition exists for paan, which leads many youngsters to get addicted to tobacco at an early age,” he said.
Experts also stated a surge in types of mouth cancer occurring on the lip, gums, tongue, the inner lining of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, and floor of the mouth (under the tongue) in India due to tobacco usage. Widespread use of paan masala amongst the youth is also a major reason.
“I am now seeing cancer patients as young as 15-17 years who have been consuming tobacco in some form or the other,” Pendharkar said.
“Cases are not just rising in rural areas, but in urban areas as well. Nowadays, there is a shocking trend seen wherein youngsters in the age group of 20-30 are affected with oral cancer,” added Dr Suhas Aagre, Oncologist and Hemato-Oncologist at Asian Cancer Institute.
The use of tobacco in various forms such as gutka, zarda, mawa, kharra, khaini, cigarettes, bidi, and hookah is a major cause of tumour development in the oral cavity. It is directly associated with approximately 80 per cent of oral cancers in men and women.
Youngsters are increasingly consuming smokeless tobacco either due to imitation and/or peer pressure. While early detection improves the chances of survival, the treatment includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.