Early Detection and Care Prevents Cancer For Over 16,000 People in Rural India

Cancer is emerging as a major public health problem in India.

In 2020, as many as 1,392,179 people in India had cancer. The five leading sites of the disease were found to be the breast, lung, mouth, cervix, uteri and tongue. A study conducted by the National Cancer Registry Programme showed that among men, the projected incidence was 94.1 per 100,000 individuals and for women, it was 103.6 per 100,000 individuals. 

The study also shows that the country records about 11 lakh new cases and about 5 lakh deaths annually. 

With the increase in the number of cancer cases every year, even dedicated cancer care centers are grappling to treat patients. According to reports, there are a total of 62 cancer care hospitals across India and most of them are situated in urban areas. In rural areas, people are forced to migrate or travel for cancer care. Some patients, who cannot afford to travel, depend on doctors practising alternative medicine for cancer treatment.  

This is reflected in the fact that, though the incidence of cancer in rural India is nearly half of that of urban India, the mortality rates are double. This needs to change, especially with the fact that 70% of the Indian population is rural. 

Cancer in rural India

Cancer is a group of diseases with similar characteristics. It can occur in all living cells in the body and different cancer types have different natural histories. Epidemiological studies have shown that 70- 90% of all cancers are environmental. They are a result of random DNA mutations and are sometimes caused by a combination of these mutations and environmental and hereditary factors.


Research shows that lifestyle-related factors like the use of tobacco also contribute to cancer and they are claimed to be the most important and preventable environmental exposures. 

The incidence of cancer in rural India is increasing alarmingly because of the urbanization of rural India and changing lifestyles. At the same time, there are hardly any cancer care facilities in the Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) of rural India. 

Research shows that 90% of cancer care facilities are situated in urban areas. Patients from villages and smaller cities have to go to major cities for cancer therapy. Owing to financial constraints and cultural barriers, these patients arrive late at the Tertiary Cancer Centers (TCCs) and their conditions would’ve worsened by then. 

Most TCCs are overcrowded, and because of decreased manpower and limited infrastructure, there are further delays in treatment. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), early diagnosis of cancer focuses on detecting symptomatic patients as early as possible so they have the best chance for successful treatment. 

When cancer care is delayed or inaccessible, there is a lower chance of survival, greater problems associated with treatment and higher costs of care. Early diagnosis improves cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and is, therefore, an important public health strategy in all settings.

An intervention for women

In July 2021, Public Health Technologies Trust (PHTT) launched a program to screen the female population (35 to 60 years of age) for cancer. They conducted early diagnosis to detect cancer i.e. Oral, Breast, Cervical & Colorectal along with measuring vital, physical, and biochemical parameters specified by The National Program for Prevention & Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases & Stroke (NPCDCS). 

The program was carried out in four blocks of Karnataka – Nandi, Mandikal, Billuru and Guluru which are located in two taluks – Chikkaballapur and Bagepalli. 

By December 2021, a total of 16,826 registrations were achieved, of which 6,238 were for Non-Communicable Diseases and 10,588 were for early detection of cancer. During the screening, many were diagnosed to be malnourished, underweight, pre-diabetic, hypertensive and more. 

Teleconsultations were arranged for suspected cases and depending on the doctor’s opinion the beneficiaries were sent to district hospitals for confirmatory tests.


Roshini Muthukumar

Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.