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Cancer deaths need to be arrested for SDGs to succeed

Feb 06, 2017

“We will fail to meet SDGs if cancer deaths do not decline fast enough,” say health experts.

New Delhi: World Cancer Day 2017 is an opportune moment to review progress towards meeting governments’ commitments to reduce cancer deaths by one-third by 2030. It is a public heath imperative to take urgent measures to ensure cancer deaths are declining fast enough to meet the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which governments have promised to achieve by 2030.

Fighting cancer-related stigma is critical Lucknow-based senior educationist and breast cancer survivor Nita Mullick insisted that early and accurate diagnosis of cancer is as important as access to affordable standard anti-cancer treatment without delay.

Raising awareness among women (and also among men and transgender) about breast cancer symptoms, regular self-examination and when and where to go for screening, etc, will definitely help in improving breast cancer cure rates. Medical research must be accelerated to find more accurate diagnostic tools as well as therapies that are less toxic, more effective and affordable, and of shorter duration.

Nita Mullick added: Women should not shy of speaking out about cancers they have experienced. High level of cancer-related stigma is lurking in our society which blocks access to existing healthcare and delays diagnosis and timely treatment.

Why are we failing to prevent avoidable cancers?

“There is no excuse for not being able to prevent avoidable cancers like those related to tobacco use. Scientific evidence has proven tobacco to be a major risk factor for several cancers. Failing to implement evidence-based tobacco control measures effectively is not only increasing the cancer burden significantly but also escalating rates of cardio-vascular diseases (CVDs) like heart diseases and stroke, other non-communicable diseases, etc” said Shobha Shukla, senior advisor to Vote For Health campaign and former senior faculty of Loreto Convent.

Tobacco control is a cost-effective and evidence-based cancer prevention strategy. Over 20% of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use. Tobacco use not only dangerously elevates risk of lung cancer but also increases risk of 14 different types of cancers. Tobacco is a leading common risk factor for major non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that will kill 38 million per year with most deaths in low-and middle-income countries, said Anne Jones, senior tobacco control expert with the International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (The Union); and Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipient.

Lung cancer and TB mimic symptoms: accurate diagnosis is crucial

Dr Navneet Singh, Secretary of Indian Society for the Study of Lung Cancer, and Associate Professor at the Department of Pulmonary Medicine, PGIMER, cautioned that as TB is confirmed only through sputum testing, in case of sputum negative patients, rather than giving empirical anti-TB treatment (ATT), it is better to investigate further through a CT scan, fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC), biopsy or bronchoscopy to make a correct lung cancer diagnosis. Some of these patients may not have TB, especially heavy smokers, who come with symptoms of TB.

At Dr Singh’s tertiary care hospital, nearly 85% of lung cancer patients present themselves in Stage 3B and 4 of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Cure at that point of time is not possible.

We appeal to governments to mainstream cancer in health and non-health ministries across sectors as cancer is not just a health matter. It has wide-reaching social, economic and human rights implications, and is a significant barrier to achieving inclusive and equitable development which governments have committed to deliver by 2030.

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