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Testing indicates 50% South Asians show oral cancer signs

MAHARASHTRA-The Kumbh Mela surveillance project was carried out in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health and conducted among 5302 participants in Nashik, India, in 2016.

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The outcomes of these dental screenings revealed startling results. Among the participants tested –

  • Approximately 70% of the individuals exhibited some or the other kind of dental or oral condition including mouth ulcers and chemical burns.
  • A staggering 50% of the participants tested exhibited signs and symptoms of a developing pre-malignant oral condition among which an estimated 18% had high-risk lesions.

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  • Almost 80% testified to one or more kinds of substance abuse. A large population exhibited various dental problems including decayed teeth, bleeding gums, calculus deposition, as well as periodontal pocket formation.

Pre-cancerous lesions are extremely worrying because they have the potential to progress and develop into oral cancer. Interference with the disease at this stage of progression and enabling the patient to quit tobacco can reverse the mutilation caused by the disease and instigate recovery.

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The alarming outcomes derived from this study point out the general state of the participants overall health and well-being. Among the 50% who tested positive for signs of oral cancer, a majority of the lot came from rural and isolated localities. Not only did they belong to remote areas but their dietary habits revealed low protein consumption and essential nutrient deficiency.

The WHO reports high oral cancer incidence in countries of the subcontinent including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In numbers:

  • About 70% had oral or dental problems
  • 50% showed signs of pre-malignant lesion
  • 18% had a high-risk lesion

Oral cancer qualifies among the top three cancers prevalent in Pakistan and India owing to many reasons such as inadequate nutrition but primarily due to the heavy consumption of tobacco, betel leaf, betel nut, gutka, etc. Those who smoke and drink are at a 15% higher risk of developing oral cancer in their lifetime.

Initially presenting itself in the mouth as a seemingly harmless ulcer, lump, or white or red patch on the gums, cheek, or tongue, this disease silently develops into cancer. Owing to the cheap and cost effective nature of tobacco and betel nut products and the lack of awareness among the general population, children of ages 6 years and under can easily access these products. Continued use of these harmful products has resulted in oral cancers in children as young as 12 years of age.

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When it comes to oral cancers, early diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment outcomes. However, due to the lack of awareness and limited access to proper medical facilities among rural and low socioeconomic backgrounds, cancers are not detected until it has spread.

The governments of these countries need to actively initiate awareness programs to increase the general population’s knowledge about the disastrous effect of these products whilst subsequently banning their use because if this situation is not taken care of, oral cancer may just take the form of an epidemic in the coming years.

July 3, 2017

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Dental is part of the Medical News Group of publications which in 1968 became the pioneer of medical journalism in Pakistan. Medical News is the only periodical in Pakistan which has 3 simultaneous editions from Karachi, Islamabad and online.

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