Watch your child for addiction; it can cause cancer

Watch your child for addiction; it can cause cancer

This is one cancer story that no parent would like to hear about but for Dr Raj Nagarkar, managing director and surgical oncologist at HCG Manavata Cancer Centre, Nashik, it has been an eye-opener on how deadly tobacco consumption can be.

A ten-year-old boy from Nashik, who picked up the habit of consuming tobacco from his father’s leftover gutka packets, developed cancer after a month of use and died within four years of diagnosis despite best efforts. Dr Nagarkar, who has performed more than 45,000 cancer surgeries in the last 20 years and operates on at least 250 cancer patients every month, was aghast when a cancer survivor (a woman teacher whom he had treated) brought a ten-year-old boy to the outpatient department. “Being a vigilant teacher, she had noticed that the boy would eat all alone during lunch break because he could not keep up with his peers. He had difficulty chewing his food. I thought it would be an ulcer but strongly suspected cancerous lesions. A biopsy confirmed my worst fears. After much coaxing, the boy told me how his father would ask him to purchase some tobacco packets from a shop and keep the leftovers. The child started chewing some of the tobacco ingredients for at least a month or so,” Dr Nagarkar said.

While the parents of the boy were unavailable for comments, the surgical oncologist said how the cancer, despite several surgeries, rapidly spread in his body and claimed him within four years of diagnosis. “Both parents were employed and didn’t have enough time at home to monitor his habits and activities. His father used to travel daily from Nashik to Mumbai for work. They lost their child to a disease that could have been easily prevented had they noticed that he was getting seriously addicted,” Dr Nagarkar said.

Tobacco use is responsible for over 8.1 million preventable deaths across the globe annually. The burden of tobacco-attributable health problems is substantial in India, where almost 266 million people, aged 15 years or above use tobacco, according to Dr Monika Arora, lead author of the paper “Tobacco imagery in on-demand streaming content popular among adolescents and young adults in India: implications for global tobacco control.” It was published in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal 020. Dr Arora, who is Director and Professor, Health Promotion Division, Public Health Foundation of India, said that exposure had reduced over the years thanks to advertising prohibitions. But rampant violations by streaming platforms were undoing all benefits. Dr Nagarkar, too, argued for better parental control on child behaviour.

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A recent Global Youth Tobacco survey has said that one-fifth of Indian teenagers (13-15 age group) use tobacco products. At least 38 per cent of teenagers are addicted to cigarettes, 47 per cent to bidi and 52 per cent are smokeless tobacco users according to the National Factsheet Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-4). While the use has declined by 42 per cent during 2009-2019, the age for initiation was 11.5 years,10.5 years and 9.9 years respectively.