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Indian J Gastroenterol. 2000 Apr-Jun;19(2):74-8.

Epidemiology of digestive tract cancers in India. VI. Projected burden in the new millennium and the need for primary prevention.

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Division of Digestive Diseases and Clinical Nutrition, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.


The incidence rates of most digestive cancers in India are moderate or low. The highest rates are recorded in the urban population of Mumbai and the lowest in the rural population of Barshi in Maharashtra state. The rates will rise as the life expectancy of Indians increases along with urbanization and, within the next few decades, may reach those recorded in Indians living abroad. Based on available population data, we estimate that in the year 2001 there will be approximately 145,000 new cases of digestive cancers in India. In men, the esophagus would be the commonest site (n = 24,925), followed by the stomach (23,100), rectum (10,462), liver (8812), colon (8004), pancreas (5757) and gall bladder (3967). In women, the esophagus would be the commonest site (n = 18,608), followed by the stomach (11,890), gall bladder (7360), rectum (6983), colon (6115), liver (4227) and pancreas (3435). The incidence of cancers of the esophagus and stomach is declining spontaneously in India. It may be possible to accelerate this by reducing the use of tobacco and improving the diet. At the same time the incidence of cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver and gall bladder is rising, largely due to urbanization that leads to major changes in the diet and personal habits. A preventive approach is needed by public health education. Indians should be encouraged to retain their traditional protective diets, eat more fruits and vegetables, do more physical activity, and abstain from tobacco. Gastroenterologists can also help in secondary prevention by screening high-risk individuals, e.g., patients with chronic liver disease for liver cancer and relatives of patients with familial bowel cancer.

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