Why Cancer Care Infrastructure Matters for India

Cancer is fast becoming a public health emergency is India. According to one study[1] that drew upon the National Cancer Stasitics Report, there were 1.391 million cancer cases in 2020. In Tamil Nadu, there were 81,814 cases in 2021[2]. The incidence has been rising steadily, both in the state and across the country. 

Cancer incidence in India is currently estimated to be 1.9 to 2 million annually; actual incidence is estimated to be 1.5 to 3 times higher than reported cases. Addressing this rising cancer burden is now one of India’s major health challenges, and calls for a thorough review of the nation’s cancer care infrastructure.

Radiation therapy is a significant part of cancer care and therapy, since half of all cancer patients are treated with it. Radiotherapy is thus a critical part of the cancer care infrastructure; as the most cost-effective form of therapy, access to radiotherapeutic facilities is crucial. With rapid advances in medical technology, education and skills of staff delivering radiation therapy skills also matters hugely. For students at this university, this should be of great interest.

There is increased requirement for radiotherapy in Tamil Nadu, because of the increased cancer burden.  Radiotherapy is a highly technical and rapidly changing field of practice and study, wherein very sophisticated software systems are used to support clinical goals in delivering precision radiation therapy at scale. 

World Health Organisation guidelines suggest that for India, there should be 1 radiotherapy machine per million people. That makes it around 1,400 machines for India. We are currently at around 650 making it a little less than 0.5 per million. 

This is also reflected in the waiting period for radiotherapy departments of public hospitals, which sometimes goes up to 1 year improving access to radiation therapy depends on expanding cancer care infrastructure rapidly.

Manpower needs to operate these sophisticated therapy equipment is equally important. The number of registered medical physicists are just over 1000 in India. In addition, given the importance of accuracy in delivering precision radiation therapy, providing adequate training on software usage in advanced technology systems for qualifying medical physicists is paramount. Education therefore plays a critical role. 

So there are two things we need to address on an urgent basis – ACCESS to radiotherapy and TRAINING & EDUCATION for the optimal use of these therapy systems. 

Several new advancements in the field of radiation physics, radiation biology, and technical upgradation have led us in to a new era of radiation oncology. Radiotherapy clinicians and medical staff need to upgrade their skills to keep pace with technological change. Training programmes should extend to upskilling practitioners’ capacity and abilities.

“Elekta’s focus on education and training is driven with the same sense of urgency with which we are looking to create access for care,” says Manikandan Bala, Senior Vice President, TIMEA & Asia Pacific & MD India. “Skill development at early stages is critical for success. Technology obsolesce needs to be factored in while looking to create sustainable training partnerships. This partnership is our endeavour in that direction, to benefit the community at large. We are committed to making radiotherapy accessible and will continue to invest in training and education.”

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