Cancer wake-up call in Punjab

National

In 2009, a government survey had counted 7,738 people living with cancer across Punjab. Now that a fresh survey has counted 23,874, over three times as high, the government has acknowledged the need to identify the causes and tackle what is clearly a menace.

"Fresh studies will have to be undertaken, especially for areas where cancer incidence is high," says Health Minister Madan Mohan Mittal.

The nearly 24,000 cases detected was in addition to over 33,000 deaths from cancer-related causes in the last five years around 18 a day and 84,453 people who showed cancer-like symptoms but who hadn't yet been diagnosed with the disease.

It is not that the actual number of cases has trebled between 2009 and 2012, when the latest survey was conducted. It is the detection, with the survey having been conducted on a scale never seen before. Data gatherers went from door to door in an exercise that covered nearly 98 per cent of the population in three months starting October 2012 2,64,84,434 people in 50,53,447 households in 12,603 villages and 217 cities and towns.

The government had undertaken the exercise amid widespread claims about cancer being on the rise, and following studies by PGIMER, Punjab Agriculture University and some NGOS that attributed the trend to industrialisation, lifestyle changes, population growth, higher life-spans and the rampant use of pesticide, insecticide, chemicals and heavy metals.

A pilot for the government study had counted 785 cases in Faridkot, again around three times the 245 of 2009, but that did not cause alarm until the final set of figures was compiled.

The 23,000-odd cases represent 90.1 affected people per lakh population. Nationwide, the rate is estimated at around 80. Deaths statewide were 125 per lakh, and the total 33,000-odd in five years would represent a very large share if one goes by a nationwide estimate of 4-5 lakh a year.

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