In view of the increasing number of paediatric cancer patients, the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) has opened three new childhood cancer centres at B. Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Guwahati (Assam), Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital (HBCH) in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and HBCH, Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh).
TMC is also slated to start new cancer treatment at a hospital in Bulandpur (Punjab) next year. The distributed cancer control model seeks to take cancer care closest to the patients and make treatment accessible and affordable, TMC officials here said adding that nearly 1,000 new paediatric cancer cases were registered at above three centres in the last few months.
In Guwahati’s B Borooah Cancer Institute about 500 and in Visakhapatnam’s HBCH, over 200 children cases of paediatric cancer were registered. Blood cancer remained the most common cancer (45 per cent) among children.
Speaking about the new paediatric cancer centres, Dr Shripad Banavali, Director Academics, TMC said that “Paediatric cancer is highly curable when treated appropriately by not just a medical multi-disciplinary team, but by also providing all necessary support for families to undergo the treatment journey. This includes financial, nutritional, accommodation, transfusion and other support. Setting up more centres across India to provide holistic care is the need of the hour to tackle the burden of paediatric cancers”.
“Across India there are an estimated 40,000-50,000 new paediatric cancer cases, but only 20,000-30,000 children reach a major cancer care hospital for treatment. With more hospitals, the patients will reach out to centres of excellence closer to their homes”, Dr Banavali said and added that “there are only 75-100 paediatric oncologists in India, with nearly 40 cancer care institutes dedicated to paediatric cancer treatment. The paediatric cancer is curable, but diagnosis is often late. Besides a gender bias forces several girls to drop out of treatment,”.
Dr Girish Chinnaswamy, Head, Paediatric Oncology,TMC said that “Although there are good treatment options available for children with cancer in India, the majority of these treatments are in tertiary centres located in major cities. Hence we anticipate that a large number of children with cancer will be able to access care in these new centres.
Speaking about the holistic support that will be provided at these new centres, Shalini Jatia, Secretary, ImPaCCT (Improving Paediatric Cancer Care and Treatment) Foundation, (Division of Paediatric Oncology) (set up in October 2010) said, “The model at TMC, led by ImPaCCT Foundation, has been successful in providing holistic care and other support to children and their families. This has improved the cure rate of childhood cancer to over 70 per cent and has also decreased the refusal and abandonment of treatment by families. This has been possible by partnering with government and NGOs. Such a tried and tested model should be replicated by regional centres across the country. “ImPaCCT Foundation”, ensures that every child with cancer coming to TMC receives treatment, regardless of the family background, caste, community and religion.
TMC located at Parel in South Central Mumbai, treats over 60,000 cancer patients, coming from all over the country annually, of which 2000 are children. It was set up in 1941 as a ‘beacon of hope for the hopeless’. The management of the hospital was handed over to the Union Ministry of Health in 1962. Now TMC is an autonomous body under the administrative governance of Department of Atomic Energy, Govt. of India.
In 2012 a TMC centre was launched in Kolkata by the Tata Trust, to address the high prevalence of cancer and the lack of suitable facilities in the eastern and north-eastern region. TMC is the biggest tertiary care and referral cancer treatment and research centre in India and in the world.
TMC began “decentralization of treatment” a few years back, hoping to reduce the load of patients. Accordingly recently 50 children who had come to Mumbai for treatment from Uttar Pradesh were referred to the Varanasi hospital. “But we found that 450 other children who had never come to Mumbai for a referral, had already registered at Varanasi for treatment, pointing to the fact that people are accessing treatment as it is nearer to them,’’ Dr Chinnaswamy added.
By now TMC has set up cancer research and treatment centres in Varanasi, Tirupati, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Allahabad and Mangalore and is also partnering state governments in building state-wide cancer facility networks in Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand, Telangana and Nagaland. It has supported the formation of the National Cancer Grid since most of the oncology centres are located in western and southern parts of India.
TMC, is planning to double the number of paediatric patients it treats annually. Compared to 2,500-odd children treated in 2018, it plans to extend its free treatment avenues to 5,000 children by the end of 2020.
Every year over 50,000 children develop cancer in India and at least 70 per cent of them succumb due to various reasons including lack of money, family dislocation, no home to stay in big cities, no access to good centres in small cities and lack of proper care and treatment in smaller cancer centres etc.
India has 27 dedicated cancer hospitals and an additional 300 general or multi-specialty ones providing care to cancer patients. Research reports suggest for those aged between 25 and 69 years, cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death in India (after cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis). Experts say the concentration of cancer patients is more in the north eastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. India has 1.8 mn cancer patients but there is only one oncologist to treat every 2,000.
According to experts there is a need for immediate government intervention, since the death toll in this segment is on the rise, with chances of the disease rising fivefold by 2025. The Indian Council of Medical Research has already urged the government to make cancer a notifiable disease.