Bhutan and the Big C

Among the cancers prevalent in the country, stomach comes first followed by cervical

WCD: She still has a few more sessions to go, though Karma, 47, in the last decade has undergone six chemotherapy sessions.

Karma was 35 when she was first diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Since then, her life has been put on constant medical check ups and medications.  She was also referred several times to Calcutta, India for further treatment.

She is one of the lucky survivors of cervical cancer.

Yesterday, as Bhutan observed the World Cancer Day at the memorial chorten in Thimphu, Karma was also present, interacting with other cancer survivors and their families.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in the country today.

In 2013, 53 patients were diagnosed with cervical cancer, followed by 54 patients last year.  Four new patients were diagnosed this year.

Gynaecologist Dr Ugyen Tshomo said the number of cervical cancer diagnosed was increasing every year.

“Today, many patients are being diagnosed due to better health services and facilities, and awareness programs leading to early detections,” she said.

For early detections and better chances of survival, women are advised to get a regular Pap smear test at the hospital, Dr Ugyen Tshomo said.

However, it is stomach cancer that tops the list of cancer patients that are diagnosed today.

Head of department of surgery, and oncologist, Dr Tashi Dendup Wangdi, said most patients, who visit the referral hospital, are diagnosed with stomach cancer, followed by cervical cancer, oesophageal cancer, and head and neck cancer.

“Most of these cancers are related to one’s lifestyle, and is preventable, while some are hereditary,” he said.

With the right lifestyle, eating habits and leading an active lifestyle, one could easily prevent such diseases, Dr Tashi Dendup Wangdi said.

From July 2008 to July 2013, the oncology unit recorded about 354 stomach cancers cases, followed by 94 oesophagus cancer cases.  About 72 breast cancer cases and 69 liver cancer cases were also recorded during that period.

From July 2013 to July 2014, the health ministry spent about Nu 39M in referral costs for cancer patients.

JDWNRH medical superintendent, Dr Gosar Pemba, said such financial burden would reduce, if people were made aware that cancers were preventable.

Health officials said it was important to observe World Cancer Day, so that people would be reminded that most of these diseases are preventable.

“It’s also a day to encourage people to come for regular check ups for early detections and prevention,” Dr Gosar Pemba said.

HRH Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck joined the observance yesterday.

Medical health check ups, such as blood, blood pressure, weight and height, were also conducted at the memorial chorten.

A non-governmental organisation, Bhutan Cancer Society (BCS), was also formally launched during the event.

One of the founders of BCS, Dechen Wangmo, said the efforts from the government on prevention and control of cancer in the country needed to be harmonised with more personalised care and support interventions for a healthier and effective impact.

“BCS was started with a purpose to promote cancer care and prevention through education, advocacy and research; to improve access to quality care and support; to provide social, spiritual, psychological and financial support to people living with cancer,” she said.

BCS’s board of directors and founders includes Dr Ugyen Tshomo, sister Tandin Pemo, Dr Tashi Tobgay and Dr Tashi Dhendup Wangdi.

World Cancer Day is observed globally as part of the world cancer campaign, which responds to the Charter of Paris adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium on February 4, 2000.

It called for a strong alliance between researchers, health-care professionals, patients, governments, industry partners, civil society and the media to fight cancer, Dechen Wangmo said.

The theme for the World Cancer Day was ‘Not beyond us’.

By Thinley Zangmo

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