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India has one of the highest cancer rates in the world

April 26, 2007
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Every single person I know has a loved one (either spouse, mother, father, mother-in-law, father- in-law, sister, brother, or brother-in-law, nephew, niece) who has cancer. Its frightening. How did I discover this strange phenomena? When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. I have had an uncle who passed away from liver cancer, and my husband’s aunt and sister-in-law have also passed away because of cancer. Still, I didn’t think cancer was that common. But when my mother-in-law was diagnosed, I told a few people about it, and each and every one of them told me their stories…I talked to more people. All had a sad tale to relate.
I always knew that heart disease, diabetes and AIDS were common (and spreading) in India. India has one of the highest rates of coronary heart disease in the world, and diabetes rate is increasing dramatically amongst the affluent section of our population. As for AIDS, we are soon to get the dubious distinction of harbouring the highest number of those suffering from HIV/AIDS, if we don’t already.

Where cancer was concerned, I knew that a large proportion of our rural and semi-urban population eat tobacco and therefore our rates of oral cancer are one of the highest in the world. What I did not think was that India had an overall high cancer rate…until now. I was seeing and hearing it all around me and so I thought I would do a little research. I found that old data said that cancer was not that common in India. According to these statistics (WHO):

Cancer rates in India are considerably lower than those in more developed countries such as the United States…data from population based cancer registries in India show that the most frequently reported cancer sites in males are lung, oesophagus, stomach, and larynx. In females, cancers of the cervix, breast, ovary, and oesophagus are the most commonly encountered…

Where breast cancer was concerned I found this information:

In India, the incidence of breast cancer is increasing, with an estimated 80,000 new cases diagnosed annually. The incidence of breast cancer increased by approximately 50% between 1965 and 1985. Much of this increase may be associated with greater urbanization and improved life expectancy…

But then, 2005 data shows that India has one of the highest cancer rates in the world!! This article which quotes research funded by WHO says:

The survey included more than 200 000 patients with histopathologically confirmed cancers…it indicates that the age adjusted incidence of gall bladder cancer in women in New Delhi is 10.6 per 100 000 of the population – the world’s highest rate for women for this cancer…Districts in central, south, and northeast India had the world’s highest incidence of cancers associated with tobacco, which is chewed as well as smoked in India…Aizawl district in the northeastern state of Mizoram has the world’s highest incidence of cancers in men of the lower pharynx (11.5 per 100000 people) and tongue (7.6 per 100 000 people). The district also has the country’s highest rate of stomach cancer among men. Wardha has the highest incidence of mouth cancer in the world. The incidence of mouth cancer among men in Pondicherry was 8.9 per 100 000, one of the highest rates in the world for men. Rates of stomach cancer were high among men in Bangalore and Chennai…the survey also detected a “belt of thyroid cancer” in women in coastal districts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa… the survey also confirmed earlier observations that breast cancer has replaced cervical cancer as the leading site of cancer among women in Indian cities and that lung cancer is the most common cancer in men in Calcutta, Mumbai,and New Delhi.

This was scary. Whats wrong with India? Whats wrong with our lifestyle and with our diet that we are suffering like this? True, we don’t exercise much, and we eat a lot of fatty food. At one time because of more poverty, people were forced to walk long distances, and consume a simple diet. And people were wiry, and thin. Perhaps that is why people still feel that being plump is a sign of good health and prosperity. Eating fried foods and not exercising has always been considered desirable. Desi ghee (clarified butter), dried fruits, pakodas (stuffed and fried lentil dish) …have it all for that was needed for health! But aspiring for it is one thing, actually eating like that on a regular basis is a recipe for disaster. A paunch is not a a sign of prosperity, but a sign of ill health. But unfortunately, this feeling is still not that common. My mother-in-law still urges me to eat desi ghee and drink full cream milk because she firmly believes its good for health. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and has had surgery, but she continues to eat this, sure that this is “good” food.

As if these high rates of disease in our country aren’t enough, India has a poor public health care system, medical insurance is unaffordable for even the middle classes (for serious diseases), and most employers pay limited medical bills. A small miniscule of our population can afford good medical care.

I’ve realised one thing. No one is going to take care of us…by that I mean the average Indian. We have to pull up our socks. Exercise and eat right. Or be prepared for the worst.

Updated Stats:
From the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology: The estimated number of new cancers in India per year is about 7 lakhs and over 3.5 lakhs people die of cancer each year. Out of these 7 lakhs new cancers about 2.3 lakhs (33%) cancers are tobacco related.

From a TOI article dated 28the March 2012: India officially recorded over half a million deaths due to cancer in 2011 – 5.35 lakhs as against 5.14 lakh (2009) and 5.24 lakh (2010). UP recorded 89,224 deaths due to cancer, while Maharashtra saw 50,989 fatalities. The Union health ministry says there are about 28 lakh cases of cancer at any given point of time in India, with 10 lakh new cases being reported annually. World Health Organization (WHO) says, the estimated cancer deaths in India are projected to increase to 7 lakh by 2015.
Related Reading: Indians don’t eat healthy
Indian snacks are not healthy
Trans fat in Indian foods
Unhygenic conditions in Indian hospitals is causing AIDS to spread
Why oils can be bad for health
How to live with Diabetes
Chemicals you eat everyday
Toxins in food packaging
Health Insurance in India
Tobacco causes cancer
Insurance for heart disease
Are we eating too much?

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Saravanakumar permalink
    December 13, 2008 3:09 am

    Could water pollution and harmful pesticides be a reason?

    yes ofcourse! One of the reasons. – Nita.

  2. March 6, 2009 3:47 pm

    @ Nita : Your mother in law may have it partially right. Carbohydrates are the number one cause of Cancer in my opinion. If you read the papers of Professor Otto Warburg a Nobel prize laureate you will discover how we are killing ourselves with carbs. Indian food is very carb intense. Imagine Rajma-Chawal, Aloo-Puri things like that. Our body has no natural requirement for these kind of foods because it is designed to convert fat in to carbohydrates. So eating a diet rich in fat and protein can save you from cancer and even reverse it in some cases. As professor warburg says :

    “Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.” — Dr. Otto H. Warburg in Lecture “

    In fact heart disease may also be linked with excessive intake of carbohydrate rich diet but that is another story. Let me just say this 70% of people who have suffered heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels. So now you tell me in a country that has the largest population of diabetics should we keep focusing on a vegetarian diet full of grain? I think not!

  3. Vikram C permalink
    July 16, 2009 7:39 pm

    Somw wrong info here. India has much lower rate compared to western countries. Secondly, the studies have shown lower rates of cancer by choosing diets low in meat. I just don’t get what’s Odzer’s problem. There is coarse grain on one side and refined wheat and rice on another they are not same. And we are talking about cancer not diabetes. The coarse grain helps and refined does not. Yes we should continue to focus on grain. The study of all the foods of world has shown that bets food is as following- grains, low on fat and fish.

    Now Odzer when you talk about grains and diabetes, which grain do you refer to- makai, bajra or dhan/chawal?

    Dhan/chawal these days are not healthy because the germ part is ripped off and remaining part is bleached. It tastes and looks better but is aweful remnant of original. And you know why this happens, because we are having food habits transplation across regions and folks in other region cannot distuingish between healthy and unhealthy. Ask any south Indian about maida vs pure wheat or north indian about brown rice vs white rice. We the taste lovers are creating market for unhealthy food and suppliers are obliging.

  4. reamz permalink
    July 22, 2009 2:37 pm

    I just thought i’d chip in to say odzer is absolutely correct. The best book on this subject in my opinion is Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, which is extremely detailed on the subject. Science has proven that it is carbohydrates that are the main cause of most ‘western’ diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc. “conventional wisdom” is wrong and is widely believed due to bad science and politics.
    Do the research yourself. in America the huge rise in chronic disease has coincided with a decrease in saturated fat, an increase in refined vegetable oils (full of trans fats and other horrible nasties) and an increase in refined carbs and sugar.
    Sure, wholegrains are healthier than refined grains, but NO grains are the healthiest.
    I’m indian and i see so much diabetes, cancer and heart problems in my extended family…what do they eat? vegetable oil, white rice, carbs, sugar.
    World cancer rates will only continue to rise as long as people believe that low fat high carb diets are healthy

  5. Larry Martin permalink
    October 29, 2009 11:59 pm

    Would you please comment on this latest news?

    Wed Oct 28, 12:15 pm ET
    LONDON (Reuters) – A molecule found in a curry ingredient can kill esophageal cancer cells in the laboratory, suggesting it might be developed as an anti-cancer treatment, scientists said on Wednesday.
    Researchers at the Cork Cancer Research Center in Ireland treated esophageal cancer cells with curcumin — a chemical found in the spice turmeric, which gives curries a distinctive yellow color — and found it started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours.
    The cells also began to digest themselves, they said in a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.
    Previous scientific studies have suggested curcumin can suppress tumors and that people who eat lots of curry may be less prone to the disease, although curcumin loses its anti-cancer attributes quickly when ingested.
    But Sharon McKenna, lead author of the Irish study, said her study suggested a potential for scientists to develop curcumin as an anti-cancer drug to treat esophageal cancer.
    Cancers of the esophagus kill more than 500,000 people across the world each year. The tumors are especially deadly, with five-year survival rates of just 12 to 31 percent.
    McKenna said the study showed curcumin caused the cancer cells to die “using an unexpected system of cell messages.”
    Normally, faulty cells die by committing programed suicide, or apoptosis, which occurs when proteins called caspases are ‘switched on’ in cells, the researchers said.
    But these cells showed no evidence of suicide, and the addition of a molecule that inhibits caspases and stops this “switch being flicked’ made no difference to the number of cells that died, suggesting curcumin attacked the cancer cells using an alternative cell signaling system.
    U.S. researchers said in 2007 they had found curcumin may help stimulate immune system cells in the Alzheimer’s disease.
    (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

    Thank You,

    Larry Martin – USA

    • May 7, 2012 5:39 pm

      Hi, Larry Martin. It amazing to know that ordinary food spicy ingredient the turmeric is capable of killing of the esophageal cancer. I would like to know where can I get the updates of cancer researches of ‘Cork Cancer Research Center’. If you know it please inform it to me… And where you got the above data???

  6. unknown permalink
    July 20, 2010 7:44 am

    How about the increasing abundance of fast food restaurants in India?
    I mean their food contains lots of chemicals and such

    there’s a lot of stuff we arent necessarily aware of…..

  7. October 14, 2010 7:53 am

    Obviously, people in India were eating ghee and full cream well before this surprising increase in cancer rates was noted. So it must be something else. Otherwise there would be no serious increase in rates of disease. What did your mother start eating that your grandmother didn’t have access to?

    • Richa permalink
      December 28, 2011 12:28 pm

      Global food trends .
      Indians are not genetically built to digest cheese , mayonnaise , raw meat etc ..
      But people don’t understand the risk in following western food trends and unfortunately they have become a fad : example is the growing food chains like Mc.donalds and KFC .. majority of whose food we cannot digest .No point pointing problems at traditional Indian foods , its absolutely silly .
      Stick to your home food and don’t blame it .

      Hullo, a large majority of Indians are of mixed races. And to prove it our family has done genetic testing. East and Western Europeon genes are mixed with the native Indian genes in a significant portion of our population. This is most common in the north west and along the western coast. And as for people of the Eastern side, they have mixed blood too, but I do not want to give too many details here as this is not a post on genes. However this is just to point out that even if you have research (you have not quoted it) to prove that those of native Indian origin are unable to digest meat, not everyone living in India is of this pure Indian origin. Also, I do agree that one should not reject one’s home food, but one should just see it in the perspective of the type of activity our ancestors did. We need to fine-tune our traditional food so it suits an urban lifestyle. Everything in moderation is good! – Nita.

  8. February 11, 2011 11:38 am

    I concur with a lot of the comments here…and ultimately, the jury’s still out on what’s the healthiest food and what’s not — I no longer believe what we considered healthy just a few years ago is necessarily true now.

    My *current* view is that the Indian diet is good in that it provides an massive variety of fruits and vegetables, the use of cooking spices like turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon loaded with antioxidants and a variety of other health benefits, balanced protein sources like dal, lentils, and a wide variety of legumes, and the use of ghee in some parts of India.

    It is deficient in that fish is not that prevalent, there’s a massive overreliance on vegetable oils and fried foods, including many hydrogenated products, a lack of general nutrient awareness, low protein intake, massive intake of white rice, white flour, and white sugar, and of course the huge issue of air pollution, sound pollution, water pollution, pesticides, and lack of hygiene prevalent all over the country.

    Interesting to note, from my research, that heart disease rates are LOWER in parts of India where ghee is more prevalent and HIGHER in parts of India where vegetable oils are more prevalent. Saturated fats are seeming NOT to be the culprit we once thought they were. ‘The Oiling of America’ is a great resource to check out.

    Cheers!

  9. basil davis permalink
    March 2, 2011 9:48 pm

    Why do all of the health book writter in the USA say that cancer rates are lower in India than in the USA if not so?

  10. roshan permalink
    March 17, 2011 10:37 pm

    i has to do with all the nuclear bomb testings that was done in russia and india.The radiation from these bombs ahve reached India and has increased the rate of cancer.An aunt of mine got cancer after visiting India and passed away sooon. It has to do with all the radioactivity particles in the air.

  11. May 23, 2011 10:25 am

    It is interesting to note that there is not much awareness even in educated masses of India regarding the effects of environmental pollution caused by poor regulations supplemented by the selfish political interests and corruption in India. How the waste disposal of chemicals especially the nuclear wastes is done in India is at least mystery for me and I am not too confident of the Government to have much concern and safety standards in this matter. There are instances of villagers catching cancer due to armful chemicals dumped near the village by some industries. I wonder how many such instances might have been gone unnoticed due to lack of overseeing, low awareness in masses, population being habituated to thinking that these kind of activities are normal. In India, selfishness has reached such an extreme in common public that they don’t care about the health of other people, except for themselves and immediate family. They don’t even realize that contaminating food grains etc. for petty gains while selling might end up in their own plate some day. They wouldn’t bother what happens to the trash except that they want it get out of their house. Nuclear power plants being setup everywhere ( I read that there will be a plant setup every 55kms across the coastal line of India) is good for the power hungry industries and population, but how much safety standards and regulations are followed is definitely in question. recently one nuclear scientist asked not to use the reactors that is planned to be used by the Central Government. He pointed out that these new reactors supplied by foreign countries are not very safe, extensively tested and India is being used as a test ground. But the politicians turned their deaf ear to this.

    Unless the awareness of masses increases and there is a protest of any violations and scrutiny of environmental pollutions of any kind…..hardly any change will occur and the cancer rates may increase much further. I pray that people, especially the so called leaders look at these matters of importance with a much broader and altruistic vision.

  12. pavan permalink
    July 29, 2011 3:42 pm

    if any one know someting with ful proof then only that person should express here, because it may spoil someones Knowledge and direction..so plz…

  13. July 30, 2011 8:55 pm

    Very interesting information about India and health of its people.

  14. S. Kepley permalink
    August 1, 2011 11:03 pm

    read the books by Dr. Jane Plant….. she had breast cancer 5 times and finally figured out what was bothering her and causing her cancer! I think she is on to something very important for us all! Read the comments (On Amazon -her books) by many people who suffered and now are well.

  15. Brenda permalink
    August 3, 2011 3:45 pm

    Are you advertsing for her book? Why not tell us what she said?

  16. September 28, 2011 10:40 am

    You really think ghee and cream is responsible for cancer?Why not target additives in food,processed foods and lesser consumption of fruits?

    • Richa permalink
      December 28, 2011 12:31 pm

      I agree with you Ashwin
      Traditional Indian foods are the best foods .
      It is proved that Ghee contains essential fatty acids which help our system .
      But when we start adding Cheese and Mayonnaise and additives , plus there is a lack of food control and regulation by the government in India , there will be issues of additives .

  17. Brenda permalink
    October 3, 2011 4:31 am

    We need to look at why India is the highest. What is different about India from other countries? Is it higher in cities or in the country? What has changed? Diet? Lifestyle? Breastfeeding children for longer than tow years each has been proven to cut cancer rates in adults; are women in cities breastfeeding less?

    • October 3, 2011 9:19 pm

      Brenda, I agree that a scientific approach and research is necessary but very little research is done in India and one is forced to guesstimate. The reasons for oral cancer are obvious. Chewing tobacco. Other kinds of cancer must be linked to diet and also perhaps stress. Indians in cities lead a very stressed lifestyle, with overcrowding, poor public transportation, unchecked pollution and plus very long working hours. 6 days a week and long hours on a daily basis. Also there are not recreation facilities for the public and hardly any park! The population of India is too huge. Where breastfeeding is concerned, that has not reduced.

  18. SAM permalink
    February 29, 2012 11:28 pm

    PRAY INDIA……………………………………..FOR CANCER

    NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD………

  19. sai suresh permalink
    March 2, 2012 7:22 pm

    don’t worry friends not atleast one person in India was attacked by cancer in 2011.And sam your pray was reached to god right.

  20. Reginald Kohnke permalink
    November 3, 2012 3:00 pm

    The great thing about curcumin is that it helps the immune system and also hastens the healing ability of the body..

    Our personal online site
    http://www.melatoninfaq.com/melatonin-for-jet-lag/

  21. Bhavna Narang permalink
    December 16, 2013 5:15 pm

    In our country, the main reason of cancer is the amount of pesticides used in crops…my mother had cancer,in spite of having a good that is balanced diet.so much thanks to our government that they really dont do anything for reducing price of cancer medicines.It’s going to be a year that i have lost her. PPl who have cancer should consult DS Research center, we got to know abt this place very late but ppl pls make others aware abt this place,the can really help…

    • March 30, 2014 8:27 pm

      i don’t understand what the hell god is doing for good people who are suffering just because of other greedy people who are adding impurities just to urn more money and killing people and i m fed up with stupid and corrupted Indian government who is doing nothing and just enjoying there power and money

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