Tobacco-related cancer most fatal for men: Study

The Million Death Study reveals that tobacco accounts for 40 per cent of cancer deaths among men in the country; among women, cervical cancer is the biggest threat to lives

If the warnings spelt out clearly on your cigarette boxes weren't enough to make you kick the habit, maybe the results of a nationwide study on cancer deaths will. The one-of-its-kind Million Death Study has conclusively established that tobacco-related cancer is the leading cause of mortality in male cancer patients in the country.

For women, however, it is cervical cancer that poses a greater threat.  The analysis was published in the prestigious UK-based medical journal Lancet yesterday, with a simultaneous release at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Parel. According to the data offered by the paper, a total of 7,137 of 1,22,429 study deaths were due to cancer, corresponding to 5,56,400 cancer deaths across India in 2010.

The study clearly indicates that of a total of 1,515 cancer deaths reported in men, 588 were tobacco related. Of the 1,576 female cancer deaths, 283 deaths were from tobacco-related cancer. But cervical cancer claimed more lives among women, having killed 324 of the 1,576 women.

Author of the study, Dr Prabhat Jha, said, "The MDS shows that India registers 6 lakh deaths due to cancer every year. About 70 per cent of these deaths occur in the 30-69 age group. We used data to randomly select 6,671 small areas across India, each with about 1,000 people. We found that 1.2 lakh deaths in 2010 occurred due to tobacco alone. Tobacco accounted for 40 per cent of cancer deaths among men and 20 per cent among women."

Till the study was conducted, clinicians and policy makers could only rely on the 24 urban registries and two rural registries to gauge the burden of cancer-related deaths. As such it is a valuable resource, and has made many interesting and invaluable revelations about the concentration of the disease.

Jha further explained, "We undertook this study because the data we had in India was more urban-centric, even though 70 per cent of Indians live in rural areas. For the first time, we know that risk of cancer deaths is four times higher in the northeastern parts of the country than in Bihar or Chhattisgarh."

Dr Rajesh Dikshit, another author, said, "The study shows that cancer is more common among the urban population. While this is true, mortality due to cancer is almost at par in both rural and urban areas, suggesting that detection and treatment is poor in rural areas, which is a preventable factor."

The rate of cancer deaths in India is about 40 per cent lower in men and 30 per cent lower in women than their counterparts in the US or UK. However, cancer death rates are expected to rise, particularly with increase in age-specific rates of tobacco smoking. The study concludes that the prevention of tobacco-related and cervical cancer, and earlier detection of treatable cancers, would reduce cancer-related mortality rates in India, particularly in rural areas that are underserved as far as cancer treatment is considered.

J Bantia, secretary, public health department, who was present at the release, said, "While previous studies were hospital based studies on cancer incidence, this one is a community-based study and will help the state formulate policies which will eventually help prevent cancer-related mortality."

Commenting on the tobacco consumption habits, Dr Prakash Gupta, from the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, said, "This study is a clear indicator that there is high prevalence of tobacco use and smoking in the northeastern states, especially Mizoram. This may explain why there are higher number of cancer deaths there."

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