Cancer continues to be a major killer in the State and the Northeast as a whole, with a very high number of patients getting diagnosed for cancer every year. Matters stand worsened by the late detection in many cases as also by the inadequate cancer treatment facilities in the region to cater to the burgeoning number of patients. To ease the fatality of cancer in the region, it is imperative that along with induction of matching cancer care facilities, thrust is accorded on early detection through a sustained screening programme. On the occasion of World Cancer Day today, it is good to see Assam Cancer Care Foundation, an initiative of the Government of Assam and Tata Trusts, undertaking a free-of-cost, month-long awareness and cancer detection initiative across the State. Under the initiative people will be screened for oral, breast and cervical cancers – all of which have a high incidence in the State – at the community level and at Swasth Assam kiosks managed and run by ACCF. Such programmes should be continued every year so that there is early detection, which in turn can ensure fruitful treatment. Since many cancer patients find little indication about the disease during early stage, spreading awareness about the need to go for periodical screening and the urgency of early detection can go a long way in facilitating timely medical intervention. As per data of ACCF, 70% of the cases reach out for medical help at an advanced stage, which results in higher morbidity and mortality rates. The high cost of cancer treatment has been another bane that hinders access to adequate and timely cancer care. Accessible and affordable cancer treatments are the stated objectives of ACCF’s three-level cancer grid model in the State and this should be visible on the ground. Apart from the existing screening facilities and cancer care infrastructure in the nine districts, we need more such facilities in all the districts.
The huge burden of cancer in Assam where some 32,000 new cases are detected every year is further accentuated by the disturbing fact that 70% of the detected cases happen at an advanced stage, hindering the chances of recovery. Then, in stark contrast to the growing burden of cancer in the region, treatment facilities still continue to be inadequate. It is the Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Assam that has mostly to cater to the needs of the burgeoning cancer patients. WHO mandates one teletherapy machine against a population of ten lakh – meaning that the Northeast with its combined population of 4.5 crore needs 45 machines. Regrettably, the region barely has one-third of the requirement, with Assam alone accounting for most. Similarly, shortage of trained doctors and paramedics has also been another bane, affecting adversely the cancer cure scenario in the region. An urgent upgrading of medical infrastructure as well as induction of trained manpower for ensuring effective cancer care delivery is, therefore, another imperative.