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Expert warns of head and neck cancer epidemic due to smoking Lakshmaiah, Professor and Head, Medical Oncology, Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, each year over two lakh new cases of mouth, head and neck cancer are detected in the country, making it the most common type of cancer. Tobacco use is also the villain causing 40 per cent of all cancers. staggering 22 per cent of the global head and neck cancer cases and 29 per cent of global deaths due to head and neck cancer occur in India. About 50 lakh children are habituated to tobacco and this rate is increasing day by day so we are poised on a brink of head and neck cancer epidemic in productive age population of India in coming years. threatDr Lakshmiah said India, South and South East Asia showed an increasing number of youngsters picking up cigarette smoking when it was declining in the UK, Europe and the developed world. consumption is growing here. It is directly linked to cancers of the mouth, head and neck, lungs, oesophagus, even bladder and cervix, he told Business Line. What is alarming, he said, was that younger people in the productive ages of 15-40 were falling prey in urban and rural areas. Cancer incidence can be to an extent averted as 80 per cent of the reason for the disease is wrong lifestyle. Kidwai Memorial, a premier central government run oncology centre, registers 15,000 new cases each year; half of them are caused by tobacco use, he said. In the US, only 2 per cent of all cancer deaths are due to head and neck cancer. In India, this is a high 16 per cent. Cost of treating these cancers by radiation, chemotherapy or surgery ranges from 30,000 in a Government hospital to around Rs 3 lakh in private hospitals. There were effective medicine such as cetuximab (Erbitux), Avastin (Roche) or even the desi BIOMAb EGFR (Biocon). Chemotherapy is now a main line of treating these patients, with better survival rates, by adding Docetaxel (marketed by Sanofi Aventis) as a third drug to a common two-drug course. more patients can benefit with voice preservation and overall quality of life after the newer data in inoperable head and neck cancer patients, he said. Government stepsApart from individuals kicking the butt themselves, the government should put strong regulations in place to curb tobacco use, Dr Lakshmaiah said. There has to be NGO involvement to interact with the community. Steps should be taken to check the cancer such as banning tobacco products, stopping subsidies to tobacco farmers and weaning them away to other crops; stopping tax benefits to tobacco companies. Also, make the cigarette pack really scary, put warnings on what its use can cause, from fertility to gynaecological problems, Dr Lakshmaiah said. Last week, the Health Ministry said cigarette and tobacco products would display gory pictorial warnings such as rotting mouths, hanging gums and infected lungs - on their packs from December this year.