New Delhi: Cancer has been the leading cause of death worldwide and it accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 alone, or nearly one in six deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In India, the number of cancer cases is projected to go up from 14.6 lakh in 2022 to 15.7 lakh in 2025, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Cancer Registry Programme (ICMR-NCRP) report. To know more about the deadliest disease that has embroiled millions of people in the world and the modifications required in the healthcare system, Banega Swasth India team spoke to Padma Shri Dr Ravi Kannan, a surgical oncologist originally from Chennai, who has treated more than 70,000 cancer patients in the last one decade.
Dr Kannan’s journey began with shifting of base from his native Chennai to Assam’s Silchar, to treat the cancer patients.
Need For Affordable Healthcare Services
Throughout his work at a Cancer Institute in Chennai, Dr Kannan and his team of experts worked with one rule of treating each cancer patient irrespective of their socio-economic status and he implemented the same idea in Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Silchar, where he provides cancer treatment free of charge. There, he learnt that despite providing ‘low cost and no cost’ treatment, boarding and lodging, people were still reluctant to get themselves treated.
These people quoted very valid reasons behind it. The people of the valley are daily wage workers, and their incomes depend on their daily work outcomes. We know that the treatment of cancer is long and demands frequent hospital visits. The patient cannot afford these visits as their work, the family and their livelihood suffers.
Dr Kannan said that while this is the case with one group of patients, the other group is afraid of going to the hospitals as they think the more they visit the hospital, all their savings will be drained.
Hence, there is a requirement of a healthcare service/model that would address the obstacles a cancer patient is facing in receiving the treatment, Dr Kannan said.
Cancer: The Causes Of The Deadly Disease
Dr Kannan said that India is witnessing the shift from communicable to non-communicable diseases, and the incidence of Cancer in India is on the rise. He said that Cancer is a lifestyle disease that is preventable. He listed down the causes of Cancer, including tobacco, areca nuts, alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, which means a lack of physical activities, poor dietary habits, infections, and inflammation in the body. The cancer expert said,
If these factors are taken care of, India can witness nearly 70 per cent of eradication of cancer cases and will be left with a small number of Cancers for treatment.
According to WHO, nearly one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity.
In 2007, Dr Ravi Kannan quit his position as the Head of the Department of Surgical Oncology at the prestigious Cancer Institute (Women’s Indian Association) in Chennai, and shifted to Assam with his family, as he was moved by the plight of the economically impoverished people, who desperately need the services of the Cancer Hospital in Assam’s Silchar. He wanted to make Cancer care more accessible in the Barak Valley of Silchar.
Before Cachar, the nearest hospital for the people was over 300 kilometres away in Guwahati. Over the last 13 years, Dr Kannan, along with the entire team at the hospital, has transformed the rural cancer centre into a full-fledged hospital and research centre.
So far, he has treated more than 70,000 patients. For his exemplary work in the field of medicine, Dr Kannan was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2020. He is currently working as the Director of the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, where he treats cancer patients free of charge. Besides providing free treatment to cancer patients, the hospital also provides accommodation, food, and employment.
Preventive Measures of Cancer
The prevention of Cancer requires reduction through alterations in individual and population behaviours, Dr Kannan said. He emphasised that changes in the lifestyle pattern can keep an individual away from the deadly disease – from quit smoking to increase ingestion of fruits and vegetables, less consumption of alcohol, caloric restriction, to increased physical exercise. Additionally, regular and timely use of vaccinations and regular check-ups can also help prevent Cancer and multiple non-communicable diseases. Dr Kannan said,
If we follow these simple health measures, we can reduce more than 80 per cent of the cancer cases in the country.
Prevention and treatment becomes efficient with the support and empowerment of the local community members, Dr Kannan said while talking about the role of ASHA workers. In the remote areas, Dr Kannan and his team work with them to reach out to every villager.
This one time, in a small village, there was a woman with a duct in her breast. It was identified by the ASHA workers trained by us. She convinced her to come to the hospital, where we detected cancer in her breast and she was given the treatment before the cancer could have gone worse.
To ensure ‘health for all’ in the rural areas, ASHA workers have played a significant role, Dr Kannan added.
Dr Kannan’s ‘mantra’ is that every healthcare giver, from doctors, wardboys, nurses, technicians, the doormen to the hospital director, must echo the same sentiment – treating every patient efficiently and freeing as many people as possible from the vicious web of Cancer.