Stomach cancer is the most common cancer in the country today, according to data with the cancer society.

Cervical cancer, head and neck (ear, nose, mouth) cancer, and lungs and thyroid cancer follow.

Researchers, faculty, oncology-related practitioners and bio-engineers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries are at the 13th SAARC Federation of Oncology (SFO) International Cancer Conference to collaborate on topics affecting cancer research and precision from the SAARC countries.

Themed “optimising cancer care in the region,” the two-day conference began yesterday in Thimphu.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said cancer was the leading cause of death worldwide.

She added that today cancer was associated with fear and death in the country. “I don’t blame that because if we see the WHO data today, in the last one decade in Bhutan, we have had no improvement in the survival rate. And if you look at the amount put in the cancer treatment it is enormous.”

The minister stressed on the need for a well-conceived and managed national cancer control plan with understanding of the resource limitations. “There is an urgent need to develop uniformity in cancer management in the SAARC region and I see SFO as the driving force to bring about these positive changes. So I urge the distinguished members to work towards partnership in the field of collaborative research, transfer of skills and technology amongst member countries for the benefit of the vast majority of cancer patients in our region.”

Bhutan hosted the 6th SFO conference in 2011. Founder of the SFO Professor Abdul Karim also attended the conference.

Following the 6th SFO, cancer registry and cancer society that helps raise awareness and provides support to cancer patients were started in the country, gynecologist at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Ugyen Tshomo, said. “Except for cervical, blood, and thyroid cancer patient we have radiation for the patients in the country.”

“Earlier about 500 cases were referred outside. Now it has decreased to about 300 cases,” said Dr Ugyen Tshomo.

With the cancer registry started in 2014, about 2,600 new cancer cases were recorded until 2017.

Data are sent to India for analysis.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that more oncologists, infrastructure, and equipment would be the next step towards improving cancer treatment in the country. “The cancer hospital that has been promised by the Indian government would also be beneficial for cancer treatment in the country.”

Phurpa Lhamo