Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco and paan products like chalia (betel nut), ghutka and naswar makes a person more predisposed to head and neck cancer. “At Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), we have operated on 1,500 cancer patients over the last 16 years, 83 per cent of which were smokers,” said Dr Shabbir Akhtar, Senior Instructor, Department of Surgery, Aga Khan University (AKU). In Pakistan four per cent of all cancers are head and neck cancers, and “men are twice as likely to contract these types of cancer as women,” said Dr Akhtar. These facts were discussed at a public awareness programme held by AKUH at the Serena Hotel in Quetta.
Different diseases affecting the head, particularly the ear, were also discussed. Ear-related conditions range from age-related hearing loss to ruptured eardrums, which are very common in Pakistan. “Surgical repair of torn or punctured eardrums is usually quite successful and can restore and improve hearing,” said Dr Akthar.
Dr Mubasher Ikram, Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, AKU, spoke at length about sinusitis, an infection of the air-filled cavities inside the cheekbones and forehead. Some of the symptoms of this common condition include fever, tenderness and pain of the infected areas, nasal congestion and a runny nose. “As most cases of acute sinusitis, which develop quickly, are caused indirectly by viral infections like the common cold, the inflammation tends to clear up roughly within the same time that it takes to get over a cold, which is about two weeks,” explained Dr Ikram.
Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, can last for weeks or even months. Airborne pollutants, cigarette smoke, dust, mould and pollen all worsen the inflammation as do alcohol and chlorine in swimming pools. Dr Ikram mentioned several techniques to diagnose chronic sinusitis such as endoscopic examination and CT scans, the international gold standards for diagnosing sinusitis. By “combining state-of-the-art equipment with better training and expertise, we can carry out functional endoscopic sinus surgery to effectively reduce the recurrence of chronic sinus inflammation,” said Dr Ikram.
Both doctors’ presentations were followed by question and answer sessions with the audience.
As part of AKUH’s outreach programme and societal commitment to creating awareness of early diagnosis and timely treatment, it has organised over 300 Signs, Symptoms and Care programmes in Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta and the UAE which have benefitted 50,000 people.
Of the patients treated at AKUH, 73 percent come from low to middle-income backgrounds. Its Patient Welfare Programme is designed to provide assistance to patients who are unable to afford the cost of their treatment. Since the inception of this welfare programme in 1986, Rs. 2 billion has been disbursed to more than 300,000 needy patients.
Department of Public Affairs
Aga Khan University
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