Bangladesh witnessed an alarmingly high incidence of cancer with a massive rise in both deaths and cases in 2020.
At least 108,990 cancer deaths were recorded in the year while the total caseload was 156,775, only manifesting a frail condition of the country's health sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
These are the findings of a latest report by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Of the total patients, 88,075 were male and 68,700 female, the report reads.
Talking to The Financial Express, Anowara Begum, a cancer victim and also a housewife, who regularly visits National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital, from the country's Noakhali district, said she was diagnosed with breast tumor in June 2020.
Since her husband died in August 2020, she has been passing very trying time amid several physical and mental difficulties and financial hardship along with her two sons and one daughter who are aged between 14 and three and a half years.
Alongside pondering over her children's future which is now at great stake, she said, after selling her husband's land and domestic animals, she now has to bear all the treatment cost of the disease.
"Now I am on the brink of becoming a pauper after selling all I had to meet the treatment cost of the fatal disease," she said.
The government must stand by the patients who are now suffering from such severe diseases and are economically insolvent, she expected.
The number of new patients of both sexes of all ages who developed cancer in oesophagus is nearly 21 ,745 or 13.9 per cent which is the highest among the types of the disease, reveals the IARC report.
The report, called GLOBOCAN 2020, gives the most up-to-date estimates for 28 different types of cancer in 184 countries.
Patients of lip and oral cavity cancer were 13,985 (8.9 per cent), which is second highest while the cases of breast cancer was 13, 028 (8.3 per cent).
The number of total cancer cases in the last five years was 270,866 as of 2020, said the report.
According to the GLOBOCAN 2018 data, with some 122,715 people developing the disease, at least 91,339 patients died of various types of cancer in 2018.
Of the dead, 49,119 were males and 42,220 females during the period.
The data also shows there were 251,752 (0.25 million) cancer cases until 2018 in Bangladesh.
Top five most frequent cancers in both sexes excluding non-melanoma skin cancer (ranked by cases) were oesophagus, lip and oral cavity, breast, lung and cervix uteri while top five in males were oesophagus, lung, lip and oral cavity, hypopharynx and stomach and top five in females were breast cervix uteri, oesophagus, gallbladder, and lip and oral cavity.
Talking to The Financial Express, Dr Md Habibullah Talukder Ruskin, associate professor and head, Department of Cancer Epidemiology of NICRH, said uncontrolled lifestyle, unplanned urbanisation, tobacco usage, addiction to alcohol, physical inactivity, obesity, infection like Hepatitis B, Human papillomavirus (HPV), child marriage and late marriage are the main causes of cancer.
Cancer treatment has developed significantly over the last decades.
Modern equipment, skill and medicine are available now. But access is limited to 5.0-10 per cent of people who are from a high income group, he points out.
It is highly centralised, mostly in the capital and other cities only, the cancer specialist mentioned.
Mr Ruskin also highlighted the activation of the National Cancer Control Council and developing the National Cancer Control Strategy and Plan of Action.
He also put emphasis on the need for a National Cancer Screening Programme for early detection of cancers of breast, cervix and oral cavity.
Eight divisional cancer centres are under implementation. Limited cancer treatment facilities should be available at the district level hospitals, Dr Habibullah insists.