Cancerous Arunachal and Northeast

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

The latest national cancer registry programme report reveals a major threat to the Northeast and Arunachal. The NE and Arunachal are emerging as the highest cancer-affected regions of the country. The top six areas with the highest cancer cases in the entire country belong to the Northeast.

In the entire country, cancer in males is the highest in Aizawl, followed by East Khasi Hills and Kamrup in Assam. Papum Pare in Arunachal ranks fifth in India, followed by Pasighat at 13th.

Cancer incidence in the entire country for females is the highest in Papum Pare district, followed by Aizawl. Pasighat ranks 13th and West Arunachal 20th in the list.

Studies reveal that the top four male cancer cases in Arunachal are related to stomach, liver, oesophagus and lung. The top four female cancer cases in Arunachal are stomach, breast, cervix and thyroid. In fact, Papum Pare district has the unique distinction of having the highest cases of liver, cervical and ovarian cancers.

The major cancer-causing reason is excessive consumption of tobacco products in the NE, like cigarettes/bidi smoking, chewing tobacco, gutkha and paan-tamul. About 57 percent of all cancers in the NE males are linked to tobacco consumption. High incidence of oesophagus and stomach cancer are linked to the region’s dietary habits, including eating too much smoked meat/fish, higher salt intake, unhygienic food/water. Cervical and ovarian cancers are linked to poor hygiene, sanitation and multiple partners. Liver cancer is due excessive alcohol consumption.

Despite these high cancer figures in the region, medical facilities for diagnosing and treating cancer are inadequate in the region. Facilities like advanced laboratories, PET scan, radiotherapy, onco-specialists are lacking. Most cancer patients travel to other cities of the mainland for cancer treatment. This leads to discontinuity in follow-up treatments, scans and extra expenditure. Lack of facilities also results in late detection of cancer, leading to more fatalities.

There is an urgent need for specialist cancer hospitals or cancer wings with advanced facilities and specialist staff in key cities like Guwahati, Shillong, Dibrugarh, Itanagar, Pasighat, etc. There is also a need to create awareness among the population about causative factors, early diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures. Awareness of causative factors like avoiding excessive smoking, chewing tobacco, gutkha, paan-tamul, avoidance of excessive alcohol, smoked meat/fish, maintaining personal hygiene, eating healthy food, clean drinking water, etc. An important role can be played by the health department, NGOs, CBOs and intellectuals. There is a need for NGOs to play a key role in cancer awareness and prevention.

Covid-19 is being tackled on a war footing with thousands of crores being spent and dedicated hospitals created. Similarly, the government must create medical infrastructure to diagnose and treat cancer in the region. It is predicted that one of every four males in Papum Pare, and one of every seven males in West Arunachal and Pasighat are likely to be afflicted with cancer before 74 years of age. More awareness and prevention by lifestyle changes may be the only long-term solution to remove this tag of being the cancer capital of India. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)