Cancer is a disease whereby affected body cells grow uncontrolled and deprives healthy body cells of nutrients and appropriate function. According to a fact sheet of WHO, released in 2017, cancer is a chief cause of mortality worldwide, resulting in every 1 per 6 deaths being cancer mediated. In 2019, around 140,690 cancer cases have been recorded in Pakistan, and a murky side is that the majority of these patients will continue their fight against cancer lifelong.
A recent demo-graph conducted by JPMA under the supervision of Agha Khan Hospital showed some common cause of cancer-related deaths in women is breast cancer, followed by Lung and blood cancer. But most of the population is entirely unaware of the causes behind the rapid growth in disease and of the fact that death risk can be minimized with early diagnosis or annual mammograms of women.
Certain risk factors are contributing to the fast pace of cancer cases, including Hormone deficiency, heredity, metabolic, or irregularity in the immune system. Whereas external sources like alcohol, smoking, excessive radiation exposure, and imbalance in dietary are instrumental in this deadliest disease. Nanoparticle toxicity is another major cause of genetic mutations that can prove to be carcinogenic as these Nanoparticles are present in smoke, paints, and even in the air.
In Pakistan, no population-based study has been conducted so far to figure out the nationwide incidence of cancer cases. According to a rough estimation, Pakistan stands as a sixth nation in the world where more than 80 million of the total population is suffering through such a chronic disease. However, cancer is needed to be monitored monthly with a proper cancer monitoring policy and prevention strategy.
Moreover, there is a severe lack of awareness for gender-based cancer types like breast, skin, and ovarian cancer; they are still a taboo subject in our society, patients and their families used to hide the diagnosis. A thorough analysis with detrimental effects on psych-social aspects of a patient’s life should be done to identify the financial stress on the family when a member diagnosed with cancer. In this regard WHO provides an organized framework that maintains global guidelines on cancer enlistment and restorative coding data. In Pakistan, only Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, working around 19 years, and Agha Khan Hospital Karachi, are contributing to information collection on cancer analysis and treatment and equally providing research facilities to tackle health challenges. SKMH has its own cancer registry and record of cancer cases which reveals an upward trend in progress and prevalence of breast/blood cancer due to the lack of awareness and facilities among patients.
Pakistan has no dearth of talent, our great scientists and researchers are working hard in the international organizations, and an example is Dr. Waqas Usman Hingoro, based in Liyari, a small town in the premises of Karachi, his research on advanced treatment of cancer has recently been published in prestigious Nature Communication journal. Dr. Hingro with his team unleashed the ability of red blood cells’ components called extracellular vesicles, which can successfully carry drug delivery nanoparticles (NPs) into the affected human body parts.
Nonetheless, we are short on job opportunities and cancer research facilities in our Universities and educational institutions. This inappropriate culture is the primary cause of unawareness as it never encourages local medical students and researchers to develop a strategy or a coping mechanism for our fight against cancer. However, navigation in the cancer path will be more straightforward when young researchers are provided with a proper support system and guidance. Our Government and private sector should prioritize investment in cancer and a committed training program and mentorship of next-generation scientists should be included in the equation.
Saadeqa Khan is a freelance science journalist based in Quetta. She actively contribute with Dawn, Express Tribune, Daily Jang and other Pakistani publications. She’s a science fiction novelist and a skilled interpreter.