NEW DELHI: Cancer cases, as well as mortality, are increasing rapidly among Indian women, primarily because of low awareness and late detection. India accounts for the third highest number of cancer cases among women after China and the US, growing annually at 4.5-5%, new data shows.
According to a report ‘Call for Action: Expanding cancer care for women in India, 2017’, cancer among women in India is estimated at 0.7 million. However, the real incidence is much more — between 1 and 1.4 million per year as many cases go undiagnosed or unreported.
India also ranks among the top two countries globally on mortality for key women-specific cancers. Data shows cervical and breast cancer mortality rates in India are 1.6 to 1.7 times higher than the maternal mortality, highlighting the significantly adverse mortality rates for women-specific cancers in the country. India topped the list for mortality for breast and cervical cancers and reported the second highest incidence for ovarian cancer globally.
According to the report, released by E&Y in association with Ficci Flo, in 2015, cancers of the breast (19%), cervix uteri (14%) and ovary (7%) contributed to 40% of all cancer incidence among women with states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi having the highest incidence for these cancers.
“It is alarming that awareness levels of women-related cancers is low among the general population and even medical professionals. Despite the established benefits of screening, coverage in India is low for women,” the report said.
India-based studies have confirmed that screening improves early detection of cancers by 1.5-2.5 times. For instance, cancers such as breast and cervical can be cured if detected early and treated adequately.
According to the report, of the 2,000 new women diagnosed with cancer every day, 1,200 are detected in late stages. This reduces five-year survival rate by 3 to 17 times for breast and cervical cancer. Late detection also adds to the cost of treatment. Estimates show treatment cost for late-stage cancers is 1.5 to 2 times higher than the cost for early-stage cancers.
In fact, the mortality to incidence ratio, which is a key indicator for measuring the effectiveness of national cancer control programmes, is the worst in India for key women-specific cancers when compared to global peers.
Experts say it is imperative to address the menace of growing incidence of cancer among women with urgency and in a holistic manner with a due emphasis on prevention, timely diagnosis, effective treatment and palliative care.
The report estimates the economic burden of cancer care treatment to be the highest compared to all other diseases, with the cost of a single hospitalisation exceeding the average annual per capita expenditure of more than 60% of the population.
It also projects cancer incidence among women in India to increase from 110 per 1 lakh population to 190-260 per 1 lakh population by 2025, which will mirror incidence rates of China and other upper-middle-income countries such as Brazil and Thailand.
What is probably more worrisome is India witnessing the further deterioration of key risk factors that contribute to cancer incidence. For instance, while obesity is considered a major contributing factor for cancer, the proportion of overweight women in India grew at twice the global average growth between 2004 and 2014, the report says. Similarly, alcohol consumption per capita increased three times in India between 2000 and 2014. Even delayed childbirth and changing breastfeeding pattern as well as changing demographics leading to increased ageing of the population are likely to result in increased cancer incidence.