Punjab dominates cancer treatment at PGI, accounting for 65% of cases


The number of cancer patients receiving treatment at PGIMER Chandigarh across the region has significantly increased. Hospital data reveals that from 3,000 to 4,000 new cases annually (between 2000 and 2010), the institute now handles 5,000 to 7,000 new cases each year (from 2011 to 2015). The majority of these cases originate from Punjab.
“At PGIMER, the largest share of cancer patients hails from Punjab, accounting for 65 percent of patients, followed by Haryana (20 to 25 percent) and Himachal Pradesh (10 to 15 percent). Patients from Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal constitute about 5 percent of cancer patients at PGIMER,” states Dr. Rakesh Kapoor, Head of the Department of Radiation Oncology at PGIMER.
Dr. Kapoor points out that on average, PGIMER treats around 40,000 cancer patients annually (both new cases and follow-up patients), with 65 to 70 percent of them being in stage three and four. He emphasizes that 30 to 25 percent of patients can be cured if the disease is detected at an early stage.
Regarding why such a significant number of patients come from Punjab, Dr. Kapoor mentions that a study conducted by Tata, PGIMER, and Punjab Agricultural University found elevated levels of arsenic in Punjab. However, there is no consensus on the direct link between pesticide use and cancer.
“We are in a dilemma on this. Ignorance of symptoms and a delay in treatment are the major issues that need to be addressed. For a few cancers, like gall bladder cancer, there is no lag time. We are observing a decrease in cervical cancer due to menstrual hygiene. In our OPDs, we have initiated family, symptomatic, and secondary screening. The rise in cancer cases cannot be attributed to one factor, and genetic and etiological factors also need to be considered,” the radiation oncology specialist adds.
He further notes that, in women, breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer as the most common type. A population-based cancer registry maintained by Memorial Centre, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Mumbai, in collaboration with PGIMER, revealed that breast cancer is the most prevalent form (33 percent) of the disease in Chandigarh. “In males, the incidence of head and neck cancers is very high, as are cancers of the esophagus and gallbladder,” Kapoor says.
Dr. Sushmita Ghoshal, Head of the Department of Radiotherapy at PGIMER, emphasizes the importance of early detection and appropriate treatment. She states that early diagnosis and treatment can potentially cure about one-third of all cancers. This can be achieved through screening, which involves actively searching for the disease even before symptoms become apparent.
Ghoshal explains, “Cancers of the mouth or uterine cervix develop over many years through a continuous process of tissue changes. Detecting these changes early is crucial for taking appropriate action to prevent further progression of the disease. Similarly, small nodules in the breast can be identified through careful physical examination or using X-rays or ultrasound. When detected at a pre-malignant or early stage, cancer treatment is highly effective with fewer side effects and disfigurement.”
Dr. Pankaj Malhotra, Head of the Department of Clinical Hematology and Medical Oncology at PGIMER, highlights the significant advances in cancer treatment. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies have emerged as powerful tools in battling cancer. PGIMER offers a wide range of treatments, including cutting-edge therapies like CAR T-cell therapy, which holds promise for eradicating advanced leukemias and lymphomas.
Malhotra notes the role of artificial intelligence in the future of cancer treatment, offering personalized therapy based on individual patient characteristics and molecular profiles. This technological innovation has the potential to identify and prevent many cancers, ultimately reducing the burden of disease and suffering.