THE findings of a recent study conducted by the Dow University of Health Sciences have revealed that cancer of the gastrointestinal tract is on the rise in Karachi. This might not just be a coincidence, as the study indicates — Karachi is also the city with the highest prevalence of oral cancer in the country. According to researchers, this rise can be attributed to the growing use of tobacco products (one of the main causes of oral cancer) and the consumption of unhealthy foods. The study was based on data collected over several years from 2010 to 2019. The survey revealed that most of the cancer cases (around 60pc) were diagnosed in women as compared to men. The most common cancer among women is breast cancer, followed by oral and then oesophageal cancer, while in men it is oral cancer. The findings of the DUHS survey are not surprising. Research indicates that cancer, often a hereditary malady, is also linked to environmental factors and poor dietary habits, as in the case of oral cancer that affects those who regularly consume tobacco products, paan and betel nut. The increasing incidence of cancer in Pakistan has also been noted by other independent studies carried out in the country. A separate survey by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences lists cancer as the second leading cause of death — the first being heart disease — in the country. The survey indicates that every year, around 148,000 new cancer cases are reported in Pakistan.
Poor environmental conditions combined with a dilapidated healthcare system and the recent hike in drug prices paint a worrisome picture for the hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the country. Lack of screening facilities, and difficulty in accessing health services, also hinder treatment. The authorities need to invest in satellite centres of tertiary hospitals to enable screening tests while also ensuring that patients receive the required treatment. It is equally essential to educate the public on the importance of early diagnoses and treatment.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2020