Lung cancer has emerged as a dominant public health threat in India, experts warn. One procedure offers a diagnostic hope in the fight against the disease.
Every year, two million Indians are affected by the disease, which accounts for 7.5 percent of the overall cancer burden in the country and ten percent of cancer-related deaths. This is according to Dr Pavan Gorukanti, director of Yashoda Hospitals, who was speaking at an event in Secunderabad earlier this week about advanced lung cancer treatment and diagnostics.
The event cast a particular spotlight on endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), a procedure which is considered highly effective in detecting ailments of the lung. This not only includes lung cancer, but also other forms of cancer such as lymphoma; infectious conditions such as tuberculosis; and inflammatory disorders such as sarcoidosis.
When it comes to lung cancer, the use of EBUS has been praised for improving patient outcomes. According to one study, “the use of EBUS as the initial diagnostic and staging procedure has been proven to significantly increase survival, compared with conventional diagnostic and staging procedures.” Use of the procedure can also benefit India’s public health system: as the study goes on to state, “instalment of EBUS will have the greatest effect on overwhelmed, suboptimally functioning national healthcare systems, by decreasing the number of required diagnostic and staging procedures, therefore reducing both treatment delays and costs.”
As with many other specialist disciplines, India suffers from a pronounced shortage of oncologists. As reported by The Hindu Business Line in 2017, India’s oncology workforce currently numbers at around 1,250. By 2020, demand for oncologists will require 5,000 cancer doctors, in addition to between 450 and 550 dedicated cancer treatment centres.
When it comes to lung cancer, experts warn of a potential epidemic. Concerningly, the disease is spreading among non-smokers and smokers alike – dispelling the notion that lung cancer is solely the disease of tobacco users. Factors such as exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke are among the reasons why lung cancer is spreading beyond tobacco users to groups the disease does not typically affect: non-smokers, women, and people under fifty.
With this in mind, it is important to maximise the potential of procedures such as EBUS in tackling India’s lung cancer burden. This is key to compensate for shortfalls in staffing levels in oncology and making sure that diagnosis comes early and accurately, improving the chances of long-term survival and patients’ quality of life.