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KARACHI, Feb 3: As elsewhere across the globe, World Cancer Day (WCD) will also be observed in the city on Saturday to raise awareness about the disease, its prevention and treatment, particularly in children and young adults.

Various healthcare institutions and civil offices have chalked out programmes such as walks, public awareness lectures, seminars and consultancy sessions during the day. Preventing cancer and raising the quality of life for cancer patients are the themes for the WCD.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for 7.6 million deaths (around 13 per cent of all deaths) in 2008, about 70 per cent of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

Lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer cause the most fatalities each year. About 30 per cent of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol consumption.

As part of the WCD events, Children's Cancer Hospital will hold a public awareness programme at its premises near Ayesha Manzil at 10.30am, while the office of the deputy commissioner (central) is organizing an awareness campaign against the use of pan/gutka/mainpuri at the Public School and College, North Karachi at 11.15am. Confiscated gutka/mainpuri will be burnt after the seminar.

Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation has scheduled a lecture, tableau and patient stories programme pertaining to cancer risk factors, diagnosis and treatment at its Hanifa Suleman Dawood Oncology Centre at 2pm.

Meanwhile, the Aga Khan University is hosting a programme on breast, head and neck, liver and gynaecological cancers at its auditorium at 4pm.

According to Dr Saquib Ansari and Salima Muhammad Khowaja of the National Institute of Blood Diseases, Acute Leukemia, the most common blood cancer in children, is also prevalent in Pakistan and a major contributor to the mortality rate of children.

Acute Leukemia is characterised by the abnormal proliferation of White Blood Cells which results in the production of immature cells called blast cells. This consequently inhibits normal blood cell production, rendering the patient prone to bruising, bleeding, anemia and infections, they added.

They said that western data indicated only 40 per cent long-term survival rate in adults with Acute Leukemia. In the case of children, however, the prognosis is fortunately far better as both the western and local data reveal very promising results, with the percentage of complete cure as high as 80 per cent.

Decrying the paucity of relevant diagnostic and treatment facilities, Dr Ansari said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had virtually none, while in Sindh, Karachi was the only place where in entirety there are four centres offering treatment for pediatric blood cancers, including one in the government sector. In Punjab, such centres are limited to Lahore and Islamabad, including the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.

He asserted that if sufficient funds were allocated for the treatment of pediatric blood cancer in the country, it would save the lives of many children who would otherwise die for want of financial means or facilities within easy reach.

A paediatric oncologist, Dr Muhammad Shamvil Ashraf, said that deaths of thousands of children, suffering from childhood cancers, could be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment, which is only possible through dissemination of information about causes, symptoms, preventive measures and available treatment of cancer in Pakistan.

"Some of the early signs of cancers among children are loss of weight combined with fever, headache, a yellowish cast to the complexion, appearance of tumours in the body, and prolonged swelling that is resistant to medicines," he noted.

Dr Ashraf, CEO of a private medical institute, also added that lung and throat cancers among men, breast cancer among women and oral cancers afflicting both genders were very common in Pakistan.

According to Dr Shabbir Akhtar of the AKU, extensive consumption of tobacco and betel nut is one of the reasons that residents of large cities – such as Karachi – who belong to the lower socio-economic classes where literacy rates are low, are at the highest risk of acquiring the disease.

Prevalent among these populations are head and neck cancers which affect the inside of the nose, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat or the voice box, he said, adding that in such cases surgery combined, in patients with advanced stages of the disease, with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, was the preferred treatment.

Dr Rizwan Khan from the same institution said that the increasing incidence of liver cancer in Pakistan was another cause for concern for health care professionals. He linked the rise in liver cancer rates directly to the increase in cases of hepatitis B and C as well as alcohol consumption, diabetes and obesity.