The study, which was published on Wednesday in The Lancet, a world-renowned medical journal, shows that 7,137 of the 1,22,429 deaths in 2001-03 were due to cancer.
It shows that apart from tobacco-related cancer deaths, at nearly 23%, oral cancer has caused the most deaths in men, followed by stomach cancer (12.6%) and lung cancer (11.4%). Among women, cervical cancer leads with 17%, followed by breast cancer (10.2%). “Compared to western countries, in India those cancers which can actually be avoided are in fact the leading causes of death. Tobacco-related cancers were estimated to have caused almost 1.2 lakh deaths in 2010 and were responsible for over 40% deaths in men and 20% in women,” said Dr Rajesh Dikshit, epidemiologist from Tata hospital and one of the study authors.
Dr Rajendra Badwe, director of Tata Memorial Centre and co-author, said, “Though the overall cancer mortality in western countries is higher than in India, the average age of those who have died is above 70. We found that here over 70% of those who died were aged between 30 and 69; these deaths are happening because of cancers that can be avoided — oral, lung, cervical, breast etc.”
Dikshit said, “The number of oral cancer cases was twice the number of lung cancer cases in individuals aged between 30 and 69. This shows that the range of fatal cancers caused by tobacco in India differs substantially from that in high-income countries.”
Of the 1.2 lakh tobacco-related deaths in 2010, 84,000 were men and 36,000 were women. At 57,000, rural men had a higher mortality rate because of tobacco-related cancers as compared to their urban counterparts (27,000).
The study authors said, “Prevention of tobacco-related cancers and cervical cancer, and early detection of treatable cancers, can reduce cancer deaths in India, particularly in the rural areas. The substantial variation in cancer rates in India suggests other risk factors or causative agents that remain to be discovered.”
The study, which was done over 10 years with 130 trained physicians, independently assigned causes to 1,22,429 deaths, which occurred in 1.1 million homes in 6,671 small areas that were selected randomly to be representative of all of India, based on a structured non-medical surveyor’s field report.