Oral Cancer Cases Soar High in India

India Has The Largest Number of Oral Cancer Cases

With a soaring number of oral cancer cases in India, the country is fighting hard against the menace, in an attempt to make the people conscious about the hazardous use of smoking and chewing tobacco.

It is believed that India accounts for 80% of oral cancer cases in the world, which is said to be the sixth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Chewing tobacco has become a common practice among the lower socio-economic classes.

From old-age people to children and women, many people are addicted to chewing tobacco in India. Doctors say people who use tobacco in any form, whether it is by chewing or smoking it, have a high risk of oral cancer.

The practice of chewing tobacco such as Paan (areca nut, tobacco wrapped in betel leaf), Gutka (a combination of areca nut, tobacco, catechu, lime and flavourings), Khaini (smokeless tobacco product) is prevalent in every corner of India, as is smoking Bidis (an Indian form of cigarette without a filter), cigars or cigarettes.

In India, as in the rest of the world, many young adults and adolescents, due to the effects of peer pressure and fascination with macho advertisements of these products, start using tobacco. Eventually,it becomes a habit because of the nicotine content in tobacco, making it hard to give up. Most sufferers of oral cancer are aged 35 and above, because of the continuous use of tobacco for a long period.

Medical studies indicate there are more than 300 carcinogens (cancer inducing agents) identified in tobacco and cigar smoke. That has a synergistic role in causing oral cancer, if taken with alcohol.

Doctors say there is a dire need for an increase in awareness about cancer amongst the general population. People do not realize the potential carcinogenic effect of smoking, tobacco chewing and alcohol. These products are potentially hazardous.

Even though the government has ordered manufacturers to put pictorial warnings on every tobacco selling product, it has not provided the desired positive result. There is an increase in the number of tobacco users day by day, rather than any decline.

Throat Cancer Caused By Cigarette Smoking

A 25-year cigarette smoker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2009, and was operated on in 2010. His vocal cords were removed and he lost his voice. Thanks to the doctors, he is alive, and he has no pain, but he cannot speak and he regrets the day he started smoking cigarettes.

Bidi Cigarettes Common In India

Although he is unable to make any sound, a man who had his vocal cords removed has an assistant who can read his lip movements. Through his interpreter, he urged people not to smoke. He says his life would have been much different if he had not started smoking bidis. Nobody can understand or hear him, but now it is too late.

Chewing Khaini Leads To Throat Cancer

Khaini, a smokeless chewing Tobacco product is common in India.

One man, who had been chewing khaini for 15 years was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. The cancer spread to his jaw, lips and tongue. With his mouth stitched, he wasn’t able to speak and communicated through writing.

Throat Cancer Survivor Helps Others

After being diagnosed with throat cancer more than 10 years ago, one man had an operation to remove his vocal cords. He lost his voice, but it saved his life. His willpower and desire to live took him to Japan to get speech therapy, and he is able to communicate by speaking softly. He now gives speech therapy classes to those who also lost their voice due to oral cancer.

85 percent of oral cancer cases in India seem to be due to consumption of tobacco in any form (smoking or chewing). Most of the oral cancer patients come from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The reason for this may be lack of knowledge, low literacy rate and poverty.

“I request people to help the government to eradicate this evil from our society,” one survivor said. “Our teachers, parents and doctors can play a vital role in eradicating this life threatening disease. I tell youngsters that you will one day grow old, so you need to start taking care of your health and wealth and stop taking tobacco and alcohol.”

Showkat Shafi
Showkat Shafi is the Senior South Asia Photojournalist based in New Delhi, India. His work has been published in Aljazeera, New York Times, Daily Maverick and other international news organizations.