Cancer: A rising menace in Northeast India

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Cancer is emerging as a major disease in the Northeast region even as its treatment in the region is costly and often the facilities are not adequate. While the disease has taken its roots in the rural belts as well, the cost of treatment in the region is causing heartbreaks to the lower middle class families.

Cancer is second most death-causing disease after heart disease. But, often the media fails to highlight the issue as the disease is seen as one-off case.

According to a report of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Aizawl in Mizoram and Papumpare in Arunachal Pradesh are districts with the highest age-adjusted cancer incidence rate in the country.

The report also states that the Kamrup (Metro) district has the fourth highest cancer incidence rate among men in the country. The  district also had highest cases of gall bladder cancer in both men and women in the country. Assam ranks third in the number of cases of oesophagal cancer in women. A Times of India report said that cervical cancer was a leading form of the disease in Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland.

The Northeast has come out as a cancer-prone zone when compared to the rest of India. The region is facing the increased prevalence of oral, oesophageal, lung, gall bladder, breast and cervical cancer.

In the Northeast, genetics along with lifestyle, environmental factors, food habits etc. contribute to this increased raise of cancer.

Moreover, water sources in 23 districts of Assam were found contaminated with arsenic and fluoride. Both are significant carcinogens, and can contribute to skin, lung, kidney and gall bladder cancer.

Additionally ,the popular habits of consuming tobacco (smoked or smokeless), betel nut with betel leaf (which has a cultural significance in the region) sometimes with a combination of slaked lime and tobacco, fermented betel nut, high drinking habits, consuming smoked meat, living in smoked filled housing environments etc causes increased risk of cancer.

Unfortunately, there are only 8 centres in Northeast India that offer cures to various types of cancer. This is why most patients have to go outside the region, which causes further financial, emotional and physical strain to them.

Moreover, due to lack of awareness, poverty and illiteracy, many people who live in remote locations tend to ignore the symptoms that show up. They prefer local medications and don’t consult a doctor which further aggravates the disease.

A popular saying goes that “prevention is better than cure”.  It is always better to avoid the carcinogenic agents. Moreover, one should always be aware of any suspicions symptoms, if it shows up in the body. Early detection is always better.

The government, non-governmental organizations along with aware citizens must come forward and must step up their efforts to create awareness and to break the apathy that exists and to create awareness among the masses.

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Dhruba Jyoti Borah is post graduate in political science. He writes on socio-political, cultural, national and international issues.