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Surviving a silent killer

Updated September 14, 2018


ACCORDING to a recent report by WHO, cancer is rapidly becoming the leading cause of death globally, with 10m deaths estimated in 2018, 70pc of which occur in low-and-middle-income countries. This year alone, Pakistan will have 174,000 new cancer cases and over 118,000 cancer-related deaths, with breast, oral and lung cancer accounting for over a third of these cases. For some time, the local medical community has expressed alarm over a rise in reported breast cancer cases. In the developed world, nine out of 10 women live beyond five years. Here, barely four survive as long. Each year, 90,000 Pakistani women are diagnosed — often too late — and 40,000 succumb to a disease that has a high cure rate if detected early. Other cancers’ incidence rates can be reduced through preventative measures such as stricter controls on carcinogens, including tobacco and other substances known to cause lung and oral cancer (the leading cancer among Pakistan men) or by reducing the spread of cancer-causing infections, such as hepatitis and HPV.

Cancer is an issue that is close to everyone’s heart — almost every family has known the grief of having loved ones wrenched from them by this ruthless killer. The name of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s late mother, Shaukat Khanum, is virtually synonymous with cancer treatment in Pakistan. Today, former First Lady Kulsoom Nawaz will be laid to rest, following a months-long battle with the disease. If ever there were a cause that could elicit broad-based support, it is the fight against cancer. The disease does not discriminate between the young or old, the rich or poor — but austerity measures, which often come at the expense of social security (including healthcare), must be countervailed with the political resolve to support those most in need. Rallying together as a nation to raise awareness, and increase and improve access to screening and treatment facilities, can heal not just ailing bodies but also, to some extent, the wounds of a fractured polity.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018