Head and Neck Cancer Cases Account For 30% in India, Urgent Need to Address Tobacco Consumption Among Vulnerable Populations

New Delhi, March 19: India is grappling with a significant burden of head and neck cancer, constituting a majority of global cases. Particularly vulnerable are the underprivileged sections of the society, notably workers and labourers, due to the rampant tobacco consumption. The importance of preventive programs to detect the disease early was emphasized at the 22nd annual RGCON 2024, themed ‘Head and Neck Cancer: Bridging the Gap from Cure to Survivorship’, hosted by the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre (RGCIRC).

“Head and neck cancers represent nearly 30% of all cancer cases in India, with projections indicating a startling 50% increase by 2040,” stated Mr. Rakesh Chopra, Chairman of RGCIRC, during his keynote address. “With 60% of people in the labour class found to be consuming some form of tobacco, they constitute the most vulnerable sections of the society. Preventive measures, therefore become imperative, and early detection plays a pivotal role, as 80% of all cancers are curable in the early stages,” added Mr. Chopra.

Emphasizing the role of technology in diagnostics, Mr. D. S. Negi, CEO of RGCIRC, highlighted AI’s transformative impact. “AI algorithms can swiftly identify cancer patterns, enhancing diagnostic accuracy and significantly reducing the turnaround time. This innovation holds promise in early disease detection and improving patient outcomes,” he remarked.

RGCON 2024 brought together over 250 faculty and over 1,000 delegates from across the globe to deliberate on advancements in cancer treatment.

Dr. (Prof) Sudhir Kumar Rawal, Medical Director and Chief of Genito Uro – Oncology Services, RGCIRC, explained the conference’s significance in fostering research and innovation. “As an academic institution, RGCIRC places a very strong emphasis on research activities. RGCON serves as a platform to witness and adopt new trends in cancer treatment,” he elaborated.

Prof. Alok Thakar, Director of the National Cancer Institute & Director of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at AIIMS, Delhi, praised RGCIRC’s contributions, acknowledging it as a beacon in cancer care. “This institution founded by a group of social activists has set a commendable precedent in cancer treatment,” he commended.

Dr Mudit Agarwal, Unit Head & Senior Consultant of Head & Neck Oncology, RGCIRC, Organizing Secretary – RGCON 2024, expressed gratitude to the global medical fraternity for their participation. “This year’s conference facilitated collaboration among experts from surgery, radiation, medical oncology, and pathology, promising advancements in patient care,” he affirmed.

Dr. A. K. Dewan, Director, Surgical Oncology at RGCIRC termed Head & Neck Cancer as a problem for Asia. “It is a poor man’s disease, chief reasons being smokeless tobacco and smoking. India reports about 1.5 million new cancer cases annually. In 2022, RGCIRC registered about 3,000 cases of Head & Neck cancers, which constitute 19% of all cancers. But less than 30% patients undergo surgery as our focus is on multi-modal treatment.”

RGCON 2024 featured key sessions on advanced treatment modalities such as proton therapy, Brachytherapy, and the integration of AI in cancer care. Noteworthy innovations like the Indian Surgical Robot, SSI Mantra, were also showcased alongside discussions on cost-effective reconstruction methods and facial reanimation techniques.

The organizing team of RGCON 2024 included Dr Mudit Agarwal, Unit Head & Senior Consultant of Head & Neck Oncology, Dr Munish Gairola, Director, Radiation Oncology, Dr. Sumit Goyal, Associate Director, Medical Oncology, Dr. Rajat Saha, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, and Dr. Sunil Pasricha, senior consultant, Pathology, and Dr Vikas Arora, consultant, surgical oncology.