Cancer is responsible for approximately 70 per cent of the deaths in low and middle-income countries such as Pakistan. “Together it is possible,” this year’s theme for World Cancer Day, highlights the importance of raising awareness and education about the disease as well as implementing early treatment programmes to reduce cancer rates and improve the chances of survival. Aga Khan University will hold a day-long seminar on February 4, World Cancer Day, to create awareness about the prevalent types of cancers in Pakistan and the measures required to tackle this growing menace.
Extensive consumption of tobacco and betel nut is one of the reasons that residents of large cities – such as Karachi – who belong to the lower socioeconomic classes where literacy rates are low, are at the highest risk of acquiring the disease. Prevalent among these populations are head and neck cancers which affect the inside of the nose, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat or the voice box. According to Dr Shabbir Akhtar, Consultant ENT Surgeon, AKUH, early detection and surgery combined with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for patients with advanced disease is the preferred treatment for patients with head and neck cancer.
The increasing incidence of liver cancer is another cause for concern for health care professionals such as Dr Rizwan Khan, Consultant General Surgeon, AKUH who links the rise of liver cancer directly to the increase in cases of hepatitis B and C as well as alcohol consumption, diabetes and obesity. The treatment options for liver cancer depend on the stage of the disease, how well the liver is working and the overall condition of the patient. The only proven options for treating liver cancer are surgically removing the diseased part of the liver and liver transplantation. “Although the overall prognosis is not very promising, this is a disease that can be prevented by societal and lifestyle changes,” says Dr Khan.
Lifestyle changes play a significant role in reducing the chances for ovarian cancer, one of most common malignancies found in women in Pakistan. “The stage at which ovarian cancer is detected has an effect on its prognosis”, says Dr Aliya Aziz, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, AKUH. A staging system developed by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) rates the chances of survival at 87 per cent if the cancer is detected in stage IA (the earliest of stages) as compared to only 11 per cent for those cancers detected in stage IV.
Breast cancer makes up one third of all cancers in women, with one in nine women at risk of developing the disease. Pakistan has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia. “If you are over 40, you are at a high risk for the disease and should have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor,” says Dr Yasmin Abdul Rashid, Consultant Medical Oncologist, AKUH. Some of the risk factors associated with breast cancer include advancing age, a close relative with breast cancer, first childbirth at more than 30 years of age and hormone replacement therapy.