World Cancer Day observed in Thimphu

Cancer: When Dorji Yangzom, a 34-year-old single mother from Trashigang, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, she thought her life was over. The year before, she had lost her husband to a liver disease.

However, after two years of treatment, she has overcome the disease. “Now, doctors tell me that I am cancer free although I have to go for regular checkups,” Dorji Yangzom, who works in a private company in Paro said. “My family members once also thought I would die,” she said.

Like her, health officials say, most cancers can be treated if they are detected early.

And to create such awareness about the disease, which has emerged as a major health challenge, Bhutan yesterday joined the international community to observe the World Cancer Day. As part of the programme, over 160 people took the benefit of a free health camp at the Thimphu Memorial Choeten to assess non-communicable disease and cancer risks.

Her Royal Highness Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck graced the programme.

Dechen Wangmo, Executive Director of Bhutan Cancer Society and public health specialist, said it was time to invest in cancer research programmes as cancer cases are increasing by the year. “It is time to spend on research and prevention of cancer,” she said.

Last year alone, Bhutan saw 231 cancer cases out of the total of 900 plus cases reported till date.

Although poor diet and alcohol among others have been blamed for the rise in cancer cases globally, she said no proper research has been conducted in Bhutan. The society is in the process of mobilizing fund for a research that will be aimed at finding the causes of cancer in Bhutan.

The most common cancers in Bhutan are cancers of the stomach and food pipe, cervical cancer, cancers of head and neck (mouth, throat and nose). Lung, liver, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers are also common in the country.

According to health experts, 25 percent of cancers are caused by preventable infections, such as HPV (cervical cancer), Hepatitis B (liver cancer) and H.pylori (stomach infection). Public health officials believe lives can be saved through affordable and timely cancer services.

The Executive Director said cancer would have advanced when most patients seek medical help. This, she said, makes treatment difficult and expensive. She said most patients come to hospital when the disease reaches the third stage, which means that the cancer would have spread.

Meanwhile, with support of the Bhutan Cancer Society and the health ministry, public awareness on cancer and support for patients are expected to improve. The society conducts prevention campaigns and provides nutritional support to cancer patients.

“Cancer patients need a lot of protein, but some cannot afford to take the required amount of protein rich foods,” said Dechen Wangmo. Volunteers of the society also provide psychological counseling to cancer patients at the Thimphu national referral hospital.

Although the government has initiated various programmes to control cancer under its non-communicable disease programme (NCD) such as banning tobacco, she said the government’s efforts should be harmonized with more personalized care and support interventions for a healthier and effective impact.

MB Subba