BY DR. TANZEELA BASHIR QAZI
For centuries, cancer has been a major challenge worldwide contributing significantly to non-communicable disease deaths.
Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and the accessory organs of digestion (pancreas, liver, gall bladder) have higher prevalence and cause more cancer-related deaths than any other system in the body.
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality worldwide. It is the 5th leading cancer in the world and the 3rd most common cause of all cancer-related deaths.
In India, stomach cancer is the 5th most common cancer among both sexes together, accounting for 5.0% of total cases and the 5th most common cause of cancer-related deaths, accounting for 6.6% of total cases.
In Kashmir, stomach cancer has traditionally been reported to be more common in the southern parts of the region, however, recent reports suggest a higher incidence in the northeastern regions.
Kashmir valley, located in the northernmost part of India, has a multiethnic Muslim majority population and has many unique social, personal, and dietary habits that have evolved over centuries in this landlocked geographical entity.
Due to the high mortality associated with stomach cancer and the presence of possible preventable risk factors, it is essential to raise awareness about the disease in Kashmir.
Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, high salt intake, and consuming smoked or salted food are some of the validated risk factors for stomach cancer.
The dietary habits of the Kashmiri population are strikingly different from the rest of the Indian population. Consumption of salted tea, dried food, special green tea (Kehwa), spicy meat preparations, leafy vegetables of Brassica olerecia family (Collard greens known as Haakh in the local language), and smoked fish/meat are some of the notable dietary habits seen in this region.
Moreover, owing to the long winter spells prevalent in the valley, the ethnic population of Kashmir has accustomed itself to preserving food in the form of dried and pickled foods.
These peculiar diets of the Kashmir valley have been found to contain higher amounts of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), which are known to be carcinogenic. Therefore, it is crucial to educate people in the region about the importance of a balanced and healthy diet and the risk factors associated with consuming certain types of food.
Apart from diet, other environmental factors like sanitation and the quality of drinking water should also be taken into consideration. Ensuring proper sanitation and access to clean drinking water can significantly reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
Furthermore, early detection is crucial for the effective treatment of stomach cancer. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and pain should not be ignored, and individuals experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention promptly.
In conclusion, raising awareness about stomach cancer in Kashmir is crucial to ensure the prevention and early detection of the disease. A healthy diet, proper sanitation, access to clean drinking water, and prompt medical attention for symptoms can significantly reduce the risk of stomach cancer and improve outcomes for those diagnosed with the disease.
(Dr. Tanzeela Bashir Qazi is a Senior Resident, Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College Srinagar)
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.