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KARACHI: Unhealthy lifestyle, poor nutrition, rapid and unplanned urbanisation are some key factors responsible for an increased burden of cancers on poor people in the country, said experts at a seminar on the eve of World Cancer Day on Wednesday.

They warned that deaths from cancer in the developing world could grow to nine million by 2030 if no effective measures were taken in countries such as Pakistan.

The seminar was jointly organised by the medical committee of the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi, KIRAN Hospital, Medionix and Essa Laboratories at the Arts Council.

Speakers said cancer caused around eight million deaths worldwide each year. Of those, around 70 per cent occurred in the developing world. More than two-thirds of cancer patients in the developing countries were diagnosed at a very late stage of the disease, when treatment was no longer effective.

Dr Akhtar Ahmed said considering the potential of delivering effective cancer care, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission had established 18 medical centres across the country, which provided quality care to patients with the technology of nuclear medicine and radiation oncology. Around 800,000 patients visited those centres annually.

Dr Rufina Soomro said breast cancer was the commonest cancer in women worldwide. Pakistan had the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia. “As compare to West, we see such women at a younger age, at least a decade earlier than in West. We also see women at an advanced stage, which becomes a challenge for treating doctors,” she said.

Dr Qaisar Sajjad said the ratio of people suffering from oral cancer or cancer related diseases in Asia was much higher than Europe’s two to four per cent.

Senator Haseeb Khan said awareness programmes were helpful to inform the public about various diseases, including cancers.

Director of health in Karachi Dr Zafar Ejaz said his department was working on a district-wise action plan to build capacity of lady health workers to create awareness among the masses through them.

Cervical cancer

Experts asked the government to include vaccine for cervical cancer in the national immunisation programme to save precious lives as Pakistan was one of the top 10 countries with the highest number of cervical cancer deaths in the world.

At a press conference organised by the United Against Cervical Cancer (UACC) at the Karachi Press Club, they said Pakistan was bearing the burden of 7,311 women fatalities annually due to cervical cancer, and was 7th in the 50 countries listed by Cervical Cancer Global Crisis Card in 2013.

Gynaecologist Dr Shershah Syed said that unlike some other cancers cervical cancer was caused by a virus, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which was common and easily transmissible.

He said the vaccine was available to prevent cervical cancer but no attention was being paid to it and almost 20 women died of it every day in Pakistan, making it the second largest cancer related killer in women.

“Our population is unaware owing to social and cultural barriers, thus it is high time for the government and policymakers to create awareness of it and ensure that our women are screened and vaccinated against this deadly but preventable disease,” he said.

AWHO study shows that in Pakistan, the incidence of cervical cancer was less than nine per 100,000 in 2002 which climbed to 13.6 per 100,000 in 2008.

Dr M.N. Lal, a senior paediatrician, said according to a study carried out by the WHO, numerous tools and technologies existed to prevent cervical cancer. Such interventions, he added, remained largely inaccessible to girls and women who needed them the most.

He said girls and women from nine years onwards could benefit from vaccine against cervical cancer.

He said Pakistan had an increasing trend of cervical cancer cases which were normally diagnosed at advanced stages when a woman was in the prime of her life, taking care of her children and family.

The two experts said society would have to stop considering breast cancer and cervical cancer as taboos to protect women.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2016