GUWAHATI, July 27 - The alarming growth of head and neck cancers in the country and substantial prevalence of such forms of cancer in North East India have made experts wary of the lack of mass awareness and access to advanced treatment and care.
While the high incidence of most cancer forms has already been detected in the north-eastern states, the rapidly growing cases of head and neck cancers throughout the country and a high flow of patients from the North East to treatment centres across the country further underscore the need of early diagnosis for better treatment.
On the occasion of the World Head and Neck Cancer Day today, Dr Santanu Panja, renowned ENT, head and neck onco-surgeon from Apollo Gleneagles Cancer Hospital, Kolkata, in an interview with The Assam Tribune, spoke at length on the most prevalent forms of head and neck cancers in the North East as well as the latest technologies available to treat the diseases with accuracy and minimal physical deformities.
�Cancers involving the tongue, cheek, mouth, throat, voice box, neck and thyroid glands fall under the head and neck cancer category. All oral forms are the most common in this category. Nearly 30 to 40 per cent of all cancers detected in India are head and neck cancers. And nearly 30 per cent of all such patients are from the North East,� he said.
Nasopharyngeal cancer or cancer behind the nose is a rare form of cancer, but has a significant prevalence in the region, particularly in Nagaland. This cancer has high concentration in some pockets of the region, necessitating awareness and early diagnosis.
�In some pockets here, 50 per cent cases are of this form of cancer. Though the exact cause cannot be ascertained, some possible reasons can be high consumption of chewing tobacco, alcohol and dried fish. We have received the highest number of cases from Aizawl, Kohima, Kamrup, Silchar, and also from Meghalaya,� he added.
An important factor linked to the high incidence of cancer here is nutritional deficiency, including the deficiency of vitamins A, E and C, zinc and selenium.
�Conventionally, head and neck cancer treatment requires surgeries that lead to disfigurement and loss of functions like speech or swallowing. However, with the advent of new technologies, minimal invasive surgeries are being done to minimise physical deformity and recovery period. Endoscopic and robotic surgeries have taken the treatment to a more advanced level where the patient can lead a normal life post treatment,� Dr Panja added.
However, early diagnosis is essential and hence, there must be mass awareness. �Both the common people and primary health care providers should be aware of the warning signs. A non-healing ulcer on the tongue or anywhere else in the mouth, white patches, hoarseness of voice that does not respond to treatment, painless neck lumps, etc., can be the early signs. A peculiar sensation in the throat or blood in spits for a prolonged period should not be ignored,� Dr Panja cautioned.