Cancer Week Prompts Quest for Solutions
As Iran marked the National Cancer Awareness Week (Jan 28 – February 4), the alarming rise in cancer cases in the country as well as the costs of treatment which is taking a heavy financial toll, is eliciting various responses from different officials and public health experts.
With a cancer incidence rate of 134 per 100,000 population, Iran is behind the global average by a slender margin, but the speed at which the epidemic is spreading has caused concern, necessitating action to identify the reasons for the surge.
At a recent conference dubbed ‘Cancer & Prevention’ held in Tehran, Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice-president and head of the Department of Environment warned about the major causes of the disease which is striking nearly 85,000 Iranians annually, reports Iran newspaper.
Ebtekar listed three major reasons for the surge in cancer rates: contaminated water, genetically modified organism (GMO), and electromagnetic radiation.
‘’The drop in water levels in dam reservoirs and a 28% rainfall decline in the current year have made inevitable the use of deeper aquifers which are contaminated with high levels of nitrate,’’ Ebtekar said. There are also concerns about the use of chlorine to disinfect water which must be given attention to. She referred to UV rays as another risk factor– especially for children and farmers.
Elsewhere in her remarks, Ebtekar spoke about electromagnetic radiation, particularly from jamming signals, which she said have ‘’direct effect’’ on people’s health. ‘’Satellite jamming has generated concern, forcing the government to intervene by holding various meetings to discuss the issue,’’ she said.
Farhad Samee, conference manager and a deputy of research at the ministry of health predicted that cancer cases in Iran will increase by 35% by the year 2025 - a tad higher than the global average. Cancer cannot be defeated only by reliance on scientific knowledge, he said.
He called for the creation of cancer prevention and control centers throughout the country as well as a blueprint to initiate a systematic fight on the disease. Drawing attention to the rise of cancer, particularly in the northern regions of the country, he said most cases of stomach cancer occur in the town of ‘Gonbade-Kavoos’ and among Turkoman clans. This could be due to the widespread consumption of opium and the habit of drinking hot tea among these peoples, he noted.
Elsewhere, Esmail Akbari, president of the Cancer Research Center said that with 90,000 new cases of cancer, it is now the third leading cause of death in Iran, reported ISNA.
“The main reason for the surge is the aging population. The current population of over 60-year-olds is 8.6% and when it reaches 11% we will see a subsequent surge in cancer cases too,’’ he said. Aging is the single biggest risk factor for developing cancer and older adults have a higher risk of cancer and other diseases that may affect cancer treatment, care and recovery.
Akbari criticized the sorry state of affairs in the treatment of cancer patients. He called attention to what he termed ‘’ health authority’’ which the health ministry should exercise but lacks.
‘’Few countries in the world suffer from inefficiency in cancer diagnosis and treatment like Iran,’’ he maintained. ‘’Treatment consists of sending people for MRI scans one by one in an indiscriminate manner, which is very costly, while in Western countries, there are scientific indices for this practice.’’
He also criticized the overuse of chemotherapy saying its prescription greatly exceeds WHO guidelines.
Akbari called for a national plan to organize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and pointed to the strict legal monitoring by the judiciary, “which is placing unnecessary restrictions on the practice of doctors.”
Akbari said 40% of cancers in Iran are preventable and 40% are treatable and expressed concern about Vitamin D deficiency among Iranians, which can be a risk factor among other things.
The Cancer Research Center launched in 2005 has been working in the area of prevention and research where around 500 patients receive care and treatment every day. It also publishes a journal which enjoys international status. One of the new initiatives launched is the focus on ‘’healing and faith therapy’’ as a spiritual gateway to overcome the genetic propensities for developing cancer.
He announced plans to open a general cancer control center within the next 3 or 4 years with donations from the charity foundation ‘Tat’.
Meanwhile, Siamak Maresedgh, the Jewish representative in the Majlis, in an interview with the parliament’s website called for ‘’early diagnosis’’ as an effective way to fight cancer.’’ Choosing a healthy lifestyle, exercise, quitting smoking and cutting down on junk food can help overcome this disease,’’ he said.