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Big C is catching the young and the non-smokers

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on July 31, 2018

Three years ago, Maaz Ali (28), en route his early-morning run, vomitted blood. Ali never smokes, and was aghast at his diagnosis in Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SRGH), that he had first-stage lung cancer. A resident of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, Ali underwent surgery, and is recovering.

The dreaded disease has known to afflict smokers and the elderly, but the trend is changing now, said doctors from the hospital who studied 150 patients within their fold in a span of six years, from 2012 to 2018.

India sees an estimated 63,000 new lung cancer cases every year. Non-smoking-related variations are on a rise, with one non-smoking lung cancer patient for every smoking lung-cancer patient, a study conducted by SRGH showed.

“Five per cent of our patient pool are between 20 and 30 years, and non-smokers. A 1950–1959 dataset shows that no lung cancer patients belonged to the below-thirty age group,” said Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery, SGRH.

Only up to 20 per cent patients are detected at stage one or two. Also, those who are between 55 and 70 years, and smoke or have quit smoking for less than 15 years, are a high-risk group. “Such patients should get a low-dose CT scan done to rule out lung cancer. At Stage one and two, lung cancer can be taken care of through surgery and drugs, but at Stage three and four, treatment is available only for extending the life span, there is no cure,” said Shyam Agarwal, Head, Medical Oncology department, SRGH.

“Gene mutations, like EGFR, ALK, ROS-1 in lung cancer patients, are not related to smoking. Pollution is a triggering factor too, apart from smoking,” said Agarwal.

Misdiagnosis is a folly, even after the patient has undergone preventive screening, like X-Ray or CT scans, in the absence or presence of any symptom like constant coughing, spitting blood, and so on. In the study, SRGH doctors found that 45 participants (up to 30 per cent) had been mistreated for lung tuberculosis when they went to physicians, and later found their way to SRGH.

For example, 39-year-old Shahdara-resident, Atul Jain. The three doctors he visited before SRGH told him that the white patch that showed up on his lung X-Ray was an old sign of TB that he had 20 years ago, and that there was nothing to worry. “It was not a TB patch but a cancerous tumour, the biopsy later revealed,” Atul told BusinessLine. “Thankfully, we sought timely treatment and I am on the road to recovery.”

Published on July 31, 2018

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