Noting that the incidence of cancer is expected to double by 2040, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official today emphasized the need to promote a healthy lifestyle and early intervention to avoid society being overwhelmed by non-communicable diseases.
“We need education and awareness among the population across the world to counter disease causing trends like unhealthy diet, red meat consumption, decrease in physical activity, tobacco use and obesity etc. In India, shifting from traditional diet to western diet is one of the major reasons for cancer,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Executive Director and Chief Scientist, WHO.
She was addressing the inaugural session of the three-day 39th annual conference of Indian Association for Cancer Research (IACR) at Uday Samudra Hotel Kovalam here, through a video message. The event is being hosted by Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB).
Former presidents of IACR Madhav Gajanan Deo, Prof. Rita Mulherkar, Prof. Neeta Singh, and Dr Shubhada V Chiplunkar; and Prof M Radhakrishna Pillai, President of IACR, and Director of RGCB, opened the event. Priya Srinivas, Secretary, IACR, was also present.
“India has potentials like infrastructure as well as human resources to take advantage of the opportunity to tackle the situation. Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer are very threatening to overwhelm our systems and cause unsustainable costs to countries around the world,” Dr Soumya said.
“In India, NCDs are emerging as a major public health problem and in fact today account for about 60 per cent of the disease both in terms of death and disability. The NCDs are the largest and related to lifestyle, to social environmental determinants of health as well as individual behaviours. Sometimes, there require specialized facilities, infrastructure and human resources for diagnosis advice for management,” she suggested.
“In many states in India, NCDs have been relatively neglected over the last few years, and also competing for resources. They are also vying with communicable diseases and maternal and child health. So, we have to think about how to integrate many of these disease control programmes in providing comprehensive family healthcare,” the WHO official said.
“Major risk factors for NCDs are tobacco, unhealthy diets, inadequate physical activity, alcohol consumption and, very importantly, air pollution. The good news is that this understanding offers prospects of integrated timely prevention strategies. Cancer prevention is considered part of the national NCD strategy,” she said.
“In India, cancer is among the top causes of death and also among the main sources of catastrophic expenditure of the patients and families. We have seen over the last 15 years, both cancer incidence and mortalities has been increasing. What is disheartening to see that the mortality rates of the most common curable cancers stay exceed 50 per cent,” Dr Soumya observed. “These poor outcomes are largely related to late-stage presentation of patients.”
“The problems of completely preventable cancer such cervical and oval cancers also remain acceptably high.The other major preventable cancer is tobacco-related cancer. About 35-50 per cent tobacco-related death occurs in men while for women, it is 15-20 per cent,” she added.
The WHO official also called for a standardized cancer registry in the country to facilitate studies as death registration. She also noted that it would be a game change if Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based technology can be used in cancer treatment.
Dr Soumya also exuded confidence that India can lead in finding solutions in this field for low and middle income countries.
In his welcome address, Prof Radhakrishna Pillaisaid it’s a perfect time for to hold the meetas WHO and IACR have just released the World Cancer Report. “The report focuses specifically on cancer prevention and RGCB has also featured in it.”
In his keynote address, Prof. Partha P Majumdar, Distinguished Professor and former director, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, West Bengal, said only 10 percent of cancers are familial and rest of them are non-familial.
Dr Frederic Biemar, Director, International Affairs, American Association for Cancer Research, called for increased, sustained government funding for cancer research and cancer-related sciences.
Dr David A Wink Jr., National Cancer Institute, NIH, US, also spoke at a session. Leading cancer researchers, clinicians, scientists and IPR experts from India and abroad are attending the meet, whose central theme is “Leading the fight against cancer.”