Gadchiroli mouth cancer incidence among the highest in country, over 500 new cases every year: report

Anuradha Mascarenhas
Mouth cancer was the second leading cancer among women after cervical cancer

Gadchiroli, one of the most underdeveloped districts of India that has a population of 11 lakh, has an estimated 550 new cases of cancer every year. The number of new cases of mouth cancers in the district was one of the highest reported in the country, according to results of a new study. Currently, there are very few facilities to diagnose and treat cancers in Gadchiroli.

Not much information is available on the number of cancer patients in the tribal regions of India and the common cancers in such areas. Tracking the number of cancer cases in such areas remains challenging as facilities for diagnosis are not easily available. The Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH,) a non-governmental organisation working in Gadchiroli district since 1986, and Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), Mumbai, have developed a new method to do so through a Population-Based Cancer Registry (PBCR) in Gadchiroli. The results of the PBCR for 2015-16 were released on Wednesday.

Dr Yogesh Kalkonde, co-principal investigator of the study, said 40 per cent of cancer cases in men and 20 per cent in women were mouth cancer cases. Fifty per cent of cancer cases among men and 30 per cent among women were tobacco related.

Mouth cancer was the second leading cancer among women after cervical cancer, Dr Kalkonde, the team lead of Rural Non-communicable Diseases and Tribal Health Programme, SEARCH, told The Indian Express.

Typically, cervix, breast and ovary are the leading cancer sites in women, and mouth cancer should not be the leading cancer among women, he said. The registry has been functional since 2015 and covers 134 villages. The methods used to collect cancer data include annual house-to-house survey to screen for cancer cases, collecting information on cancer cases through selected hospital sources in Gadchiroli district and collecting information on all deaths in the registry area through the mortality surveillance system of SEARCH, which ascertains causes of death.

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, deputy director of TMC, attributed the high incidence of oral cancer to the traditional use of chewing tobacco with supari (kharra, mawa). The impact is compounded with high incidence of alcohol use.

In a statement issued later, Dr Abhay Bang, director of SEARCH, stated that tobacco has emerged as a key public health problem in Gadchiroli and SEARCH, along with the government of Maharashtra and Tata Trusts, have developed a programme, Muktipath, to reduce tobacco use in Gadchiroli district. Dr Rajendra Badwe, director of TMC, also said that the facilities for cancer diagnosis and treatment should be made available in the district to reduce the incidence of cancer cases.

Dr Rajesh Dikshit, director of the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology at the Tata Memorial Centre, highlighted that this new method of cancer registration could be useful in other under-resourced settings in India as well as other developing countries. Along with Kalkonde and Dikshit, Mahesh Deshmukh and others were instrumental in setting up this cancer registry.