“Cancer affects anyone – the young and old, the rich and poor, men, women and children – and represents a huge burden on patients, families and societies”, said Dr Najeeb Niamatullah, Consultant Oncologist at Aga Khan University (AKU). He was speaking at a programme organised by the University Hospital to commemorate ‘World Cancer Day'. Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, particularly in developing countries, though many of these are avoidable. Dr Niamatullah highlighted tobacco use as the single most important risk factor and said that up to a third of the nation's cancer burden could be reduced by implementing known cancer preventing strategies.
Other health care professionals from AKU also spoke at this programme: Section Head of Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine Professor Javaid Khan said that if ‘gutka', ‘paan' and ‘naswar' consumption is counted, Pakistan probably has the world's highest ratio of tobacco use. Dr Khan referred to research by the Cancer Society, which shows that almost 50 per cent of all cancer cases in Pakistan are preventable.
In his presentation, Dr Farhat Abbas, Consultant Urologist and Chief Operating Officer cautioned against high intake of animal fat and red meat, and recommended that men over 50 undergo an annual digital rectal examination (DRE), and PSA blood test to detect the disease at an early stage. He also advised intake of vitamin-E, yellow-coloured fruits, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes.
Breast cancer has become a major health problem affecting as many as one in eight women, causing an increasing global burden. Consultant Breast Surgeon Dr Nazia Riaz, highlighting risk factors, said that incidence of breast cancer increases with age, spreads rapidly during the fourth decade of life, slowing down in the fifth, sixth and seventh decades. Other well established risk factors include family history of breast cancer in first degree relatives (mother, sister and daughter), late menopause, and first child birth after age 30. Dr Riaz strongly recommended screening tests for breast cancer such as mammogram, clinical breast examination and breast self examination (BSE).
Consultant Otolaryngologist and Head and Neck Surgeon Dr Shehzad Ghaffar warned that ‘paan', ‘chalia' and ‘gutka' contain high levels of carcinogens. He clarified that if use of these substances is discontinued even after cancerous signs develop, further deterioration may be prevented though the already formed changes would not revert back to normal.
As part of its outreach programme and societal commitment of creating awareness of early diagnosis and timely treatment, AKU has organised several awareness programmes, including over 250 in the ‘Signs, Symptoms and Care' series in Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Nawabshah and the UAE, benefiting more than 50,000 people. Similarly, Aga Khan University Hospital 's Patient Welfare Programme offers financial assistance to those patients who are unable to afford the medical cost of their treatment. 73 per cent of all patients treated at the Hospital are from low- to middle-income groups. Since the programme's inception in 1986, PKR 2 billion has been disbursed to more than 310,000 needy patients.