The adoption of imaging technologies can improve the accuracy of early cancer detection, use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) help analyze large amounts of data to detect trends and symptoms in cancer patients.
Raj Gore is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Healthcare Global Enterprise Ltd. (HCG). He is a seasoned global professional with more than 23 years of diverse experience in business management in North America, Asia, and Africa. Having been in the healthcare industry for 19 years, he has led business transformation and financial turnarounds of acquired healthcare companies in India, Mauritius, and Vietnam, and created sustainable growth momentum and value for these organizations.
The onset of cancer in a person, and its repercussions on the individual and the family can be life-changing. It would be no exaggeration to say that cancer is among the most feared diseases in the world. In India, cancer is the second-largest leading cause of death. As per a recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), it is estimated that approximately 19 to 20 lakhs new cancer cases may be reported in India in 2022. However, the actual incidence of cancer is expected to be 1.5 to 3 times higher than the reported cases from cancer registries, according to conservative estimates.
While the incidence of cancer is high in India, its treatment is gaining priority status with the government. Early detection, providing timely and appropriate treatment can significantly reduce its negative impact, greatly increasing the chances of survival.
For early detection, grassroots-level intervention is key. One good way to achieve this end is to establish cancer screening and treatment centers that are easily accessible to the public.
Social Set-Up and Early Detection
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists lifestyle changes, environmental pollution, and aging population as factors responsible for cancer deaths. The story in India, which is currently home to about 1.4 billion people, is a little more complex.
While many urban areas have access to state-of-the-art medical facilities, rural areas are largely Undeserved, and even undeserved in some places. So detection, early or late, becomes a challenge. And in cancer care, early diagnosis can dramatically improve patient outcomes. Conversely, delayed diagnosis and treatment can lead to low chances of survival, greater complications associated with treatment, and higher cost of care. Hence, screening for cancer before the symptoms manifest themselves needs to be encouraged.
Now, that is possible only when there is awareness about the disease, its potential fall outs, and remedies. So, the starting point in this battle is to create awareness about cancer among the masses.
Some other factors that impede the detection and treatment of cancer are low literacy level, social inequality, stigma, and poverty. Among these, poverty is prime. To obviate its damaging effects, Government schemes such as ‘Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Scheme’, offer financial assistance to those who cannot afford cancer treatment.
Cancer Awareness in Rural Areas
In India, tobacco consumption is the chief cause for the incidence of cancer. Appropriate changes in lifestyle can reduce the mortality and morbidity rates in cancer patients. Hence, there’s a big need for programs to mass educate the community about healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.
Cancer and Vaccination
Cervical cancer is a major health issue for women in India. The HPV vaccine can prevent most cases if administered before exposure to the virus. It can also significantly reduce the risk of vaginal and vulvar cancer among them.
Hub and Spoke Model
Affordability and accessibility of treatment have been major concerns for cancer patients in India. Another method to make healthcare services efficient, effective, and affordable to people is by adopting the Hub and spoke model. Hub and spoke model can address these concerns as it is an effective distribution model for chronic diseases, particularly cancer, providing a continuum of care. This model combines centralization and decentralization to sustainably serve patients while meeting stakeholder expectations. High-end services are centralized at the hub, reducing costs and increasing utilization, while routine care is decentralized to spokes, reducing logistics costs for patients. This model enables patients to receive specialized advice at the hub and follow treatment protocols at spokes, with limited hospitalization at the hub. Additionally, this model facilitates knowledge transfer from the Center of Excellence to spokes through centralized planning, medical physicist teams, and research programs. To further reduce patient inconvenience, day-care chemotherapy centers are also being set up.
This model can be made more universally accepted in the country and can help improve the accessibility and quality of healthcare services, especially in underdeveloped areas.
The Role of Technology
Technology is at the heart of cancer care ― the research and development (R&D) done by drug makers, medical equipment makers, and healthcare providers. While the adoption of imaging technologies can improve the accuracy of early cancer detection, use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) help analyze large amounts of data to detect trends and symptoms in cancer patients. They help detect cancers before they manifest in a person, yet again driving home the importance of early detection.
And as these technologies continue to evolve, they will ensure the development of precision medicine and tailored treatment for patients. Advancements in genomics, bioinformatics, stem cell biology, and genetic engineering will pave the way for new cancer immune-therapies, cancer vaccines and cancer cell therapies.
Another big leap in technology is telemedicine and teleconsultation, which have made a place for themselves in the pantheon of healthcare services. Better communication technology has helped bring the doctor to the patient, virtually, resulting in better healthcare monitoring, lower costs, and faster treatment.
Early cancer detection through screening tests leads to more successful outcomes, less invasive and less expensive treatments, and reduced emotional burden. It also curtails the disease burden on the economy, which is crucial for a growing economy like India.