Oral Cancer- A Silent Killer

Oral cancer is a lethal disease with generally increasing incidence and consistently low survival rates for the past three decades. It is a cause of great concern all over the world and a major threat to public health in Pakistan, though a wide geographical variation in incidence and mortality is observed. It is the eighth most common malignancy internationally but in Pakistan it is the second commonest as per recent records of an established and well maintained cancer registry of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital.

Many cigarette brands in Pakistan print a health warning, along with mandatory graphic images, meant to starkly lay out the health risks smoking can present. Similar warnings or mass awareness, however, has hardly ever been witnessed when it comes to the rampant consumption of gutka, areca nut (chaalia), mawa, mainpuri, naswar, betel quid (paan) and other harmful concoctions.

In our country alcohol use is prohibited as it is not available in open market due to religious and social irestrictions. Betel quid (Paan) chewing, on the other hand is a socially and culturally supported habit in Pakistan and rest of Central and South East Asia.

According to the World Health Organisation, in all of South Asia, oral cancer is most prevalent among Pakistani men. While the rate of oral cancers has grown beyond 4% (4 out of every 100 cases of cancer is oral) in the country, it stands at an alarming 30% in Karachi. As a result, the Sindh High Court (SHC) recently ordered strict action against the sale of gutka and mainpuri across the province.

According to the head of the Civil Hospital’s Karachi Oncology Unit, Dr Noor Muhammad Soomro, the majority of 900 patients examined for oral and throat cancer from January 2019 to mid-Oct were youngsters suffering from initial stages of oral jaw and throat cancer.

“It was alarming to see so many youngsters suffering from the deadly disease, all because of chewing betel nuts and gutka,” Dr Soomro said. “In fact, paan, gutka, mainpuri, tobacco, sheehsa, naswar and alcohol consumption contribute to about 70 to 75% of oral cancers prevalent in Pakistan.”

Norther Citizen Community Board in collaboration with National & International health & hygiene organizations will start programs promoting preventive measures, public awareness and oral hygiene practices among the people involving communities for a productive results.

We must also request government of Pakistan to take some concrete actions against the production & sales of such toxic material & to establish a separate department for promoting best health practices, awareness and preventives measures as Pakistan could not afford to treat such a large number of its population suffering & sick due to the oral cancer. 95 per cent of dental and oral diseases were preventable by adopting better oral hygiene practices.

Mohsin Durrani — Regional Director & Head of Projects NCCB