India faces a major talent crunch of medical and surgical oncologists amidst growing cancer burden in the country, informed a top official of leading cancer care player, Healthcare Global Enterprises Limited (HCG).

Speaking to businessline, Raj Gore, Chief Executive Officer, HCG, informed, “For us in India, medical oncologist is the biggest talent crunch. We need 5,000 of them against the current availability of less than 2,000. Also, as against 1,900 surgical oncologists currently available, we need about 2,700.”

India is severely under-penetrated for cancer care in the hinterland. Only 175 out of total 640 districts have comprehensive cancer care centers, of which 70 per cent are privately-held.

Shortage hurts smaller towns

Last week, the Centre had informed the Parliament about prevailing cancer burden with estimated 14.61 lakh new incidences recorded in 2022 under the ICMR’s National Cancer Registry Programme. However, experts find a big gap between the reported incidences and the actual prevalence of the disease because rural India is left out of the ICMR Registry’s purview.

“The actual cancer cases could be 1.5-3 times more than what is being reported. They are growing at about 12 per cent CAGR. Players like us find it difficult to get medical oncologists in smaller cities. Clearly, we are falling behind,” said Gore. He underlined India’s high cancer mortality rate, and called for preventive screening programmes for early detection.

Late detection behind high mortality

The Government puts cancer mortality at 8,08,558 for 2022 i.e. 55 per cent of the new cases reported. “Advanced stage diagnosis is the biggest contributor to the high mortality. Early detection is a sure-shot way to improve mortality,” Gore said.

But in India, preventive screening has been disappointingly low.

The data shows two-thirds of cancer patients in India get diagnosed in advanced stages (Stage III/IV) thereby requiring multiple modalities of treatment resulting in longer and expensive treatment. “The baseline cost for breast cancer patients detected at an advanced stage could be 1.6 to two-three times more than early-detected patients. This is an economic burden on the country,” Gore added.

GDP loss of ₹3-lakh crore by 2030

A FICCI - E&Y report ‘Call for Action: Making quality cancer care more accessible and affordable in India’ estimated the economic burden in terms of GDP loss at USD 11 billion (apprx ₹91,000 crore) in 2020, which is projected to increase to USD 36-40 billion (apprx ₹3.3 lakh crore) by 2030.

In Ahmedabad, after inaugurating one of HCG’s largest cancer outpatient departments (OPD), Gore appealed for a collective effort on tackling the complexity of cancer incidents.