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Global study reveals devastating impact of tobacco in India

London, Nov 16, 2023
India, along with six other countries, lose 1.3 million lives every year to cancers caused by smoking tobacco, according to a study.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, showed that together the seven countries — India, UK, US, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa — represented more than half of the global burden of cancer deaths every year.

In addition to smoking, three other preventable risk factors — alcohol, overweight or obesity, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections caused almost 2 million deaths combined, said researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and King’s College London.

Analysing the years of life lost to cancer, the team found that the four preventable risk factors resulted in over 30 million years of life lost each year.

Smoking tobacco had by far the biggest impact — leading to 20.8 million years of life being lost, the study said. Across the globe, cancer is increasingly impacting low- and middle-income countries.

The analysis shows that new cancer cases are expected to rise by around 400 per cent, from 0.6 million to 3.1 million per year in low-income countries over the next 50 years. Very-high-income countries like the UK are projected to see an increase of around 50 per cent over the same time period.

“These numbers are staggering, and show that with action on a global scale, millions of lives could be saved from preventable cancers. Action on tobacco would have the biggest impact,” said Ian Walker, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK.

Further, the findings, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, showed that in India, there were more premature deaths from head and neck cancer in men, and gynaecological cancer in women.

This is because cervical screening is less comprehensive in India than in the UK and US, which would explain why there are more premature deaths from gynaecological cancers due to HPV infection in India.

The higher number of years of life lost to head and neck cancer in men in India could be explained by smoking habits being different to those in the UK, with the general population smoking different tobacco products.

The study also marked gender differences — in India, China and Russia, rates of years of life lost to tobacco smoking and alcohol were up to nine times higher in men than women. Meanwhile, being overweight or obese, and HPV infection, led to more cancer deaths and years of life lost in women than in men.

Rates of years of life lost to HPV were 11 times higher in women than men in India, which highlights the urgent need for improved access to cervical screening and the HPV vaccination in these countries.(Agency)

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