For last several years the prevalence of cancers in Kashmir is on surge, putting a huge question mark on the already ailing health sector of the state.
One of the most dreaded diseases, cancer is emerging as a leading killer worldwide decimating 10 million people yearly and Kashmir is no exception. Though the number of deaths in the valley is not alarming but the trend, mostly due to changed lifestyle, has exponentially increased the chances.
World Cancer Day is celebrated every year on 4th of February all over the world to commemorate the efforts done by WHO, United Nations, governmental and non-governmental health organizations towards fighting cancer.
According to Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) at SKIMS here, the number of registered patients has jumped from 2097 in 2007 to 3940 in 2014. The centre witnesses a heavy rush with nearly 35,000 old cases, that doctors call follow-ups, coming for various kinds of therapies.
With nearly 4,000 new cancer patients, the hospital has also increased its infrastructure, though still limited.
But as compared to other parts of world, Kashmir is still safer. The annual incidence rate of cancer per one lakh of population in Kashmir is 70, as compared to 100 in India and 300 in entire world.
The data available with the SKIMS reveals that cancer patients registered for 2007 were 2,097, in 2008 the number was 2,465, and in 2009, it was 2,968. However the patient influx recorded a sharp decline in 2010 at 2,623 only but in 2011 it went up again to 3,057. Even as cancer cases in far flung areas go unreported, the 2010 decline has been attributed to the unrest in valley that year.
In 2014, RCC submitted a proposal of Rs 120 crores to Union Health Ministry which is still pending and has not received the Central Government's attention.
There are only 27 hospitals registered in India under hospital-based cancer registry, SKIMS is one of them. Before getting registered in 2005, SKIMS maintained its own record of cancer since 1986.
As per census 2011, RCC is catering to a population of 81 lakhs including people from Doda, Kishtwar and Ladakh.
According to experts, the top 10 cancers afflicting the Valley are Esophagus (cancer of food pipe), Lung cancer, Stomach, Colon (large intestine cancers), Breast, Brain, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Gastro Esophageal, Junction cancer (cancer between the stomach and food pipe), Ovary and Skin cancers.
"The pattern of cancer is different in Kashmir as compared to other states. Cervix cancer is most common in Indian females but here it is minimal. Oral cavity cancer is most common in Indian males but here it is minimal," said Dr Muhammad Maqbool Lone, Head of RCC. He added: "The most common cancer here is gastrointestinal tract cancer which includes food pipe, stomach and large intestine constituting more than 50% of all cancers."
But from 2013 onwards, lung cancer has overtaken other forms of cancers in males of Kashmir. Breast cancer is most common in Kashmir females. The reason for that, Dr Muhammad Maqbool Lone says, is women are adopting western lifestyle, lifestyle of people is changing, and smoking is ever increasing.
He also attributed the cause to late marriages, late child birth and obesity.
The Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital's Radiation Oncology Department is not getting requisite attention of the planners to restore and upgrade its facilities. Cancer patients in the Valley are left with just the overloaded RCC at SKIMS after floods destroyed much of the facilities at SMHS Hospital.
There are more than 30-40% cancers that can be prevented timely.
"Many cancers have a high chance of cure if detected early and treated adequately," said Dr. Sanaullah from Radiation and Oncology Centre, SMHS, adding that cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, including tobacco use, obesity, unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, alcohol use, sexually-transmitted HIV-infection, urban air pollution and indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.
For poor patients, there are many NGOs working across valley. Among them is the Cancer Society of Kashmir (CSK) that provides free medicines to the underprivileged.
One cancer patient, receiving free treatment at CSK, said: "I had lost hope that I can afford treatment of the disease but may Allah bless these people who helped me."