Cancer cases tied to religion, region in India

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    MUMBAI: A youngster living in India's northeast is four times more likely to develop and succumb to cancer in his lifetime as compared to a youngster living in Bihar. A Muslim woman is less likely than her Hindu counterpart to die of cervical cancer, which kills one Indian woman every seven minutes. Clearly, India's diversity is reflected in how cancer behaves and kills here.

    The first-ever study on India's cancer deaths shows that the area one lives in, his or her economic and educational status and religion contribute to the malady's outcome.

    An Indian living in rural areas, it reveals, has a lower risk of developing cancer but a higher chance of succumbing to it once afflicted. Called the Million Death Study, its first findings were published in the Lancet medical journal on Wednesday. Its main collaborators - Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital and the Centre for Global Health Research - held a press conference to explain the study's nuances.

    The study maps how the 'Emperor of Maladies' prevails and results in almost 6 lakh deaths annually.

    Seven out of every 10 deaths, it says, occurs among people who are in the 30-69 age group. Cancer is a disease of the aged in the West, which has a high prevalence of cancer and cancer-related deaths. "In comparison to the West, deaths among Indian men is lower by 40% and among Indian women by 30%," said the study's co-author from the University of Toronto, Prabhat Jha. "But cancer deaths in the West mainly occur in the 70-plus group. More than half of the deaths are among this group."

    India's uneven literacy patterns too is reflected in MDS. MDS shows that uneducated adults are two times more likely to die from cancer than the most educated ones. Doctors say that lack of education and awareness often led to poor or late detection.

    Among uneducated men, the death rate was 106 per 1 lakh; and among uneducated women it was 107 per 1 lakh. In contrast, those with secondary and higher education had lower death rates-46 per 1 lakh in men and 43 per 1 lakh in women.

    MDS proved once again that tobacco is the single biggest common cause for cancer deaths. Cancers caused by tobacco use contributed to almost 1.2 lakh deaths in 2010 and was responsible for over 40% of male and nearly 20% of female cancers.

    MDS is one of the first population-based health studies in India. Previous cancer estimates relied on data maintained by cancer centres that are mainly located in urban areas. "As 70% of Indians live in rural areas, we thought it was time we got a better estimate," said Dr Jha.

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