According to various studies and data by hospitals, tobacco-induced cancer cases are seeing a surge by putting a significant burden on the state’s healthcare system. Experts are of the opinion that this is majorly because of the lack of awareness about the symptoms of such cancers, and exposure to tobacco products in early age. Studies say that 27 per cent of Maharashtra’s population is affected by the adverse effects of tobacco consumption.

Dr Sabita Jiwnani, professor, Thoracic services at Department of Surgical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, emphasised the urgent need to make sure that school and college students are not exposed to tobacco products.  Commenting on the need to prevent students from initiating the use of tobacco, Dr. Sabita said, “People who start smoking before 21 years of age are more likely to become addicted to tobacco and continue smoking throughout their lives. This indicates the urgency to strengthen the regulations prohibiting the sale of tobacco products near to school and college premises. This itself will help to a great extent to reduce the number of tobacco induced health problems.”

Prevention is the most effective way to reduce mortality due to cancer from tobacco. But despite increased education and awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use, people are still prone to start smoking due to peer influence and the easy availability of tobacco products. Hence, it’s important for those who use tobacco products regularly to undergo timely screening. If tobacco related cancers are detected early, they can be treated well with advanced minimal invasive techniques, one of them being robotic-assisted surgery by using Da Vinci. 

Highlighting the significance of early screening and detection, Dr Sabita added, “In 2023, at the Tata Memorial hospital, the Thoracic Disease Management group registered 2600 lung cancer patients and 1800 oesophageal cancer patients, but only 140 lung cancer cases and 180 oesophagus cases could be operated, as the rest of them either reported at an advanced stage or were not fit for surgery. Even among the 140 patients with lung cancer, hardly 10 were in stage 1.”  

Many people tend to ignore symptoms like a persistent cough that lasts for three to four weeks. For instance, common symptoms of lung cancer include chest pain, coughing up blood, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are often mistaken for pulmonary tuberculosis, leading to misdiagnosis and treatment with anti-tubercular medications, which leaves the root problem untreated. 

Dr. Sabita further added, “It is important to educate the public about the signs and symptoms associated with lung cancer and esophageal cancer resulting from tobacco use. It is equally crucial that patients with a history of smoking, tobacco chewing or those who have smoked for more than 15 years undergo low dose CT scans every year. Early detection of these cancers increases the five-year survival rate to 80 to 85 percent, while detecting them at an advanced stage can pose significant challenges for treatment and cure”. 

“However, with the advancement of technology, patients are able to surpass various challenges that come with the detection in later stages, and doctors are able to effectively treat some of the complex cases by using multimodality therapy, and minimally invasive approaches like robot-assisted surgery thus offering hope for better prognosis”, she added.