The 19th Annual Conference of the Association of Oncologists, North-East India (AONEI), commenced with its inaugural function in Kohima on February 2nd, marking a pivotal moment in the region’s battle against cancer. Amidst the gathering, MLA Dr Tseilhoutuo (Ato) Rhütso shed light on Nagaland’s concerning position, ranking 11th in cancer incidence across India and holding the unfortunate title of the world’s second-highest Nasopharynx cancer rate.
Recent data from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR) cancer profile of India’s northeast region released in 2021 cited that Nagaland had the highest incidence of nasopharyngeal cancer, a relatively rare cancer in other regions of India, and was approximately 21 and 34 times that of Delhi in men and women, respectively. Notably, North-East India is also dubbed as the ‘hot spot’ for cancer in the country, burdened by the high prevalence of risk factors.
Studies, including one by Shanker, Neha et al., published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (2021), titled “Cancer scenario in North-East India & need for an appropriate research agenda,” discovered a link between smoked meat consumption and Nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Several studies, particularly in North-East India, found Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection to be associated with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. A study in Manipur found that other risk factors included living in poorly ventilated houses, eating nitrosamine-containing foods, and not eating enough fruits.
According to the study, smoked and smokeless tobacco use was also higher in this region than in the rest of the country, both of which were risk factors in the development of head and neck cancers. The study also discovered that betel nut chewing is a major risk factor for esophageal cancer.
The unusual dietary habits of the locals in this region, such as the consumption of fermented pork fat, smoked dried salted meat and fish, and the use of soda (alkali) as a food additive, have been linked to a high incidence of stomach cancer.
Beyond dietary factors, tobacco use, both smoked and smokeless, has emerged as a prevalent risk factor for various cancers, exacerbating the region’s already dire situation. The lack of adequate healthcare infrastructure compounds the challenge, with Nagaland grappling with insufficient treatment facilities and a stark shortage of tertiary cancer care centers.
In this context, the significance of hosting the AONEI conference in Nagaland cannot be overstated. Dr. Rhütso aptly noted that the gathering serves as a platform to confront the gravity of the situation head-on, fostering collaboration among esteemed researchers, healthcare professionals, and experts to devise innovative solutions.
Guest of honor, V Kezo, Commissioner and Secretary of the Health and Family Welfare Department, emphasized the need for a holistic approach to combating cancer, urging the community to leverage emerging technologies while delving deeper into understanding the root causes behind the region’s high cancer incidence.
The conference witnessed enlightening presentations, including a discourse on ‘Reducing disparities in cancer care’ by Dr. CS Pramesh, Director of Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, and a felicitation of Padma Shri awardee, Dr. Ravi Kannan.
As discussions unfolded, it became apparent that a concerted effort is required to address the multifaceted challenges posed by cancer in North-East India. The release of the AONEI 2024 newsletter and Conference Souvenir Magazine marked yet another step towards raising awareness and fostering collaboration in the fight against cancer.