Cancer wake-up call in Punjab


"This campaign was never intended to be a scientific study. In its first phase, which has culminated in the release of the report, its aim was to make people aware of the disease, to identify those who could be suffering from it," says health secretary Vini Mahajan.

For the suspected cases, the government is working out a treatment plan. "On World Cancer Day we will launch the second phase, which will entail taking the 85,000 persons found to be showing symptoms through a multiple-stage process of verification, followed by treatment," says Mahajan.

What the survey does not cover is distribution between men and women, or even which forms of cancer are commoner than others. It records an uneven region-wise distribution without going into the causes. "There is still no concrete evidence that points towards the cause of the disease being more widespread in one area and almost absent in others," says the health minister.

Malwa had 14,682 of the 33,318 deaths. Of these, 4,000 died in Ludhiana. The region reported 107.1 cancer cases per lakh, compared to 88.1 for Doaba and 64.7 for Majha.

The health department will support a number of studies aimed at finding out why incidence is higher in Malwa. "We have a tie-up with the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai. They will set up cancer registries in Mansa and Sangrur (in Malwa) and also in Mohali... But to arrive at concrete conclusions could take several years," Mahajan says.

Of possible causes, some specific to an area had been suggested earlier by Prof J S Thakur of PGIMER, now associated with the government survey too. A 2008 study on Talwandi Sabo and Chamkaur Sahib had revealed the presence of pesticides such as heptachlor, ethion, and chloropyrifos and heavy metals in samples of drinking water and concluded that these had led to a higher incidence of cancer.

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