Cancer cases in Bhopal have tripled: ICMR study

From The Times of India online

NEW DELHI, FEB 27: Cancer cases in Bhopal — the city which saw one of the world’s worst industrial disasters — have more than tripled among men and more than doubled among women between 1988 and 2007.

A 19-year-long study, conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research, has found that overall, cancer in men in all sites increased by 3.4 times while in women, the increase was 2.5 times.

Significantly, the study that compares cancer patterns in MIC (Methyl Isocyanate) affected and MIC unaffected areas between 1988 and 2007 found that cancer incidents in men living in MIC affected areas of Bhopal increased by 72% during this period. While 95.86 men per 100,000 population in MIC affected areas of Bhopal were suffering from cancer in 1988, the number stood at 164.82 men per 100,000.

The increase in cancer cases was in fact higher among men in MIC unaffected areas of Bhopal — 79%. While 87.76 men per 100,000 population in MIC unaffected areas were cancer stricken in 1988, the number had increased to 157.23 men per 100,000 population in 2007.

The trend in women was, however, the opposite. The increase in cancer cases among women living in MIC affected areas was 115% compared to 82% increase among women living in MIC unaffected areas.

In MIC affected areas, 89.56 women per 100,000 women were suffering from cancer in 1988 which increased to 192.39 women in 2007. In MIC unaffected areas, 95.95 women were suffering from cancer in 1988 compared to 174.97 women per 100,000 population in 2007.

Overall, among men, cancer of the tongue saw a 3.8 time increase, mouth saw a 3.3 times increase, hypopharynx saw a 2.6 times increase, oesophagus a 3.3 times increase and lung 2.4 times increase between 1988 and 2007. Among women, mouth cancer cases saw a three times increase and oesophagus a 1.7 times increase in the same period.

The study will be made public soon. Speaking to TOI, Dr A Nandakumar, ICMR’s officer in charge of the National Cancer Registry Programme, said, “We can’t say for sure that this increase in cancer cases is due to the MIC gas. However, we believe that it is because of increased use of tobacco since tobacco related cancers like that of the tongue, mouth, hypopharynx, oesophagus and lung were the main ones which showed an increase in MIC affected areas.”

Dr Nandakumar added, “However it is important that we actually rule out MIC’s hand in this increase of cancer rates. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, survivors were followed for half a decade and it was found that there was a tremendous increase in leukemias due to the atom bomb. That’s why we are continuing to collect data on how much increase has there been in leukemias, soft tissue tumours of the muscle and bone and lymphoids among people suffering from cancer in MIC affected and unaffected areas.”

According to Dr Bela Shah, head of ICMR’s non-communicable diseases division, after the December 3, 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, ICMR initiated many studies among the gas exposed population to evaluate the ill effects of the toxic gas, including a cancer registry of the people of Bhopal. The registry found an increase in tobacco related cancers (TRC) in both MIC affected and MIC unaffected areas.

While 24.05 people per 100,000 population in MIC affected areas had cancer in 1988, it increased to 31.92 people per 100,000 population in 2007. In MIC unaffected areas, TRC stood at 20.02 per 100,000 population in 1988 which increased to 30.55 per 100,000 population in 2007.

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.