Staying put

 Dhirendra Kumar |  2016-05-15 17:33:23.0  |  New Delhi

Staying put

Ace cricketer Yuvraj Singh was treated in the US for cancer, recovered well and became a part of Indian cricket team again. It was reported that the cricketer’s mother had claimed that “the doctors in India diagnosed the disease wrongly”.

Raj Kapoor’s daughter Ritu Nanda also went under the knives for cancer treatment in the US, and last but not the least there was a buzz that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi has also been treated in abroad for the dreaded disease.

Do these instances ring alarm bells as to why people are high on going abroad for cancer treatment? Is our country inept to deal with the tsar of maladies? Do we lack good doctors, or are we falling short of equipment and medicines?

When we investigated the situation, we found the answers to be very positive. We found that cancer treatment in India was the best and people from abroad were coming in large numbers to get treated for the deadly disease.

One of the topmost cancer surgeons in the world, Dr R Bidwe, the Director of the Tata Memorial Research Centre says, “We offer the same treatment as any other part of the world. Everything that can be done in the best cancer centres across the globe can be done here as well.”

Noted Bollywood film director Anurag Basu, who had been diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2004, was given a two-month ultimatum. After battling cancer here in India itself, Basu said that it is not that India is less in any way when it comes to cancer treatment. “As a cancer survivor, I have attended many conferences and seminars abroad and have always heard foreign doctors speak very highly of the kind of work being done in India when it comes to cancer.

 I have always heard them talk very highly of Indian doctors,” said Basu, who has directed several chartbusters, including the Ranbir Kapoor starrer Barfi.

Agreeing with Basu’s view, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre’s (RGCIRC) Medical Director 
Dr A K Dewan said, “Thanks to advances in technology, we have been able to contain the mortality due to cancer in recent decades. If detected in time, we have many options in order to treat cancer and ensure speedy recovery.”

Some of the new technologies which are available to Indian patients, including the genetic-testing, immunotherapy, theronostics, ablation etc. Doctors at RGCIRC offers its patients a world-class Centre for Molecular Diagnostics & Cell Biology that carries out high-end genetic testing (Tumor Gene Profiling TGF) and liquid biopsy test, Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC), for personalised medication, a first by any hospital in India.

Available only in US and Europe so far, this high-end technology comes as a relief to many cancer patients in the country who want to improve their prognosis. While TGF allows identification of the specific gene which has gone kaput and helps design targeted therapy, CTC enumeration allows doctors to predict treatment outcome in an individual. 

“As a premier cancer institute in the country, we have always been at the forefront of embracing science and the opening of world-class molecular lab is a step forward in that direction. Through this high-end genetic testing, our patients have the option of getting focused therapies prolonging survival without causing side effects of chemotherapy,” said Dewan.

Highlighting the benefits of Tumor Gene Profiling, Dr Anurag Mehta, head of Laboratory Services at RGCIRC said, “Tumor gene profiling is the process through which genes that have gone awry are identified - and then using next generation sequencing a molecular blueprint of the tumor is created. This helps us to identify genes, which are triggering cancer. This allows targeted therapy, which in turn prolongs and improves the quality of life of cancer patients with advanced diseases.”

Immunotherapy is another discovery that’s exciting doctors around the globe and promising lot of hope for all sorts of cancer. When over 30,000 delegates met at Chicago in June last year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual conference, they were all excited about a new class of drugs called immunotherapies, which are designed to encourage the body’s immune system to attack malignant cells.

“The treatment is delivering remarkable results in some of the most stubborn tumours including advanced melanoma and lung cancer,” informs Dr Vineet Talwar, senior consultant, Oncology, RGCIRC. At RGCIRC, 861 foreign patients came to the institute for treatment in 2015. Most of the patients arrived from Afghanistan and Africa. In last 20 years the RGCIRC has treated more than two lakh cancer patients.

Another technique called Theranostics, so far prevalent in Europe, is finding its way in India. This new treatment technique was recently used in Delhi for the first time at RGCIRC and could bring solace to many prostate cancer patients who had lost hope. Theranostics is effective in resistant cases where patients don’t respond to the conventional treatment modules. 

Theranostics is administered once in two-three months thus reducing the hospital costs. It costs as much as any other treatment, having negligible side effects and nil morbidity rate. Since the technique specifically targets cancerous cells it doesn’t cause any toxic effects on surrounding cells.

“We are extremely happy at the outcome of this new technique – which is the first one to be used in Delhi – and we’re certain that this would be very useful in many such cases, where the disease has progressed and spread to bones,” said Dr Partha S Choudhury, Director, Nuclear Medicine, RGCIRC.
India has around 1.8 million people suffering from cancer, with patients of breast, cervical and oral cancers topping the list. Every 13th new cancer patient in the world is an Indian.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) finding that we lost a staggering 62,000 women to cervical cancer in 2015 – or 24 per cent to total cancer related death in the country – comes as a grim reminder of the havoc that diseases can wreak on human kind.

Treatment of the disease is very economical in India as compared to that in foreign countries. The cost of treating cancer abroad can be ten times more than in India. For example, even for a simple consultation one has to cough up $10,000, which is approx Rs 6,80,000.

Some doctors have opined that the reason that people still want to go abroad for treatment is that they don’t want people to know they are suffering from cancer. “Patients tend to travel abroad but that only happens in the case of celebrities and they do it the sake of privacy”, a senior doctor said. Considering the fact that cancer treatment is extremely expensive abroad, the celebrities are the only ones who can really afford it.

There are many exceptions, such as that of music director Aadesh Shrivastava, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in October 2010 and decided to get treated in India only.

To fight the menace, Ministry of Health is contemplating introducing the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in the Universal Immunisation Programme to deal with it. The ministry has launched several schemes for cancer treatment. 

Programmes are being run by the ministry for early detection of the disease as timely reporting of the disease can be treated. Several steps are also being taken in order to upgrade its existing infrastructure. With such advancements, seems like the day when India will guide other countries in terms of cancer treatment,  will no more be a far-fetched reality.

Dhirendra Kumar

Dhirendra Kumar

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