Incidence of cancer in Kashmir appears higher in three southern Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, according to the cancer register of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.
The three districts have accounted for 20 percent of all cancer cases in Kashmir during the last five years, with higher number of affected patients per lakh of population reported from there.
Official data from SKIMS reveals that between 2014 and 2018, 20129 cancer cases were registered with the regional cancer center of the tertiary healthcare centre from 10 districts of Kashmir.
Of these, 3945 (19.5%) cases belonged to Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.
This amounts to 20 percent of all cancer patients for 18 percent population of Kashmir. The population of three districts is 12.5 lakh souls, while Kashmir, as per Census 2011, has a population of about 70 lakh.
The data shows that Pulwama district has the highest incidence of cancer, with 325 cases per lakh population.
Adjoining districts of Kulgam and Shopian also have a matching cancer rate of around 307 cases per lakh population.
However, the neighboring district of Anantnag, with a population of 10.7 lakh, has had 2485 cancer registrations, about 232 per lakh population.
In a stark contrast to this scenario, district Kupwara, with a population of 8.7 lakh, the number of cases registered in the past five years has been 1349, amounting to 155 cases per lakh population.
The data came to the fore in response to an RTI application filed by activist MM Shuja.
Although more number of cases are registered from larger districts such as Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla, figures relative to population show Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam having higher number of cancer patients per lakh population, compared to other districts of Kashmir.
Another official document sourced from SKIMS, with broader data spanning a decade between 2008 and 2018 shows that while a major chunk of cancer patients come from the most populated capital city district of Srinagar.
Doctors say the scenario owes to better access to diagnostic facilities and awareness.
Prof Gull Mohammad, head of medical oncology department at SKIMS said that his personal experience has also been that “quite a number” of cancer patients hail from the three southern Kashmir districts.
He however said that the figures were based on hospital’s cancer registry and an epidiomological study was needed to establish the accurate incidence of cancer in these districts.
“Nevertheless,” he said, “We have studies that show that some cancers, such as those of brain and gastrointestinal tract take a huge toll in Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama.”
Prof Mohammad said that some studies have pointed towards pesticide use in these horticulture based districts as a contributing risk factor.
While stressing the role of location of district and its distance from SKIMS as one of the factors that governed cancer detection, he said, “A lot of people from far flung areas are diagnosed very late and are also unable to follow-up on treatment.”
Prof Mohammad Maqbool Lone, head department of radiation oncology at SKIMS said that the Institute was compiling data for population-based cancer registry, allocated for by Indian Council of Medical Research last year.
“In a year, we will have the exact number of cancer patients from each district,” Prof Lone said, expressing concern over the lack of measures for early screening of cancer among people living in the peripheries.
“We need to intensify efforts to ensure that cancers are diagnosed earlier for a better treatment outcome.”