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Consumption of betel nut (chhalia) in the form of Pan and Gutka and chewing tobacco are causing oesophageal cancer among youngsters and even children in Pakistan, leading gastroenterologists and oncologists warned on Wednesday as they urged the authorities to take measures to curb the use of betel nuts, tobacco and other carcinogenic substances in the country.

The experts maintained that smoking, consumption of alcohol, complications due to acid reflux in addition to unhealthy diet and staying away from exercise were some other risk factors for oesophageal cancer, which was the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide, although its incidence rate varied in different geographic locations.

Speaking at an awareness session at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Karachi, the gastroenterologists and cancer specialists said oesophageal cancer was the cancer that occurred in oesophagus that is a long hollow tube that runs from a person’s throat to their stomach. The oesophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the oesophagus and it is detected more among men than women.

Gastroenterologist Dr Saad Khalid Niaz said there was no test available to detect and diagnose oesophageal cancer at the moment but difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), weight loss without any effort, chest pain, pressure or burning, worsening indigestion, heartburn and coughing or hoarseness were some of the symptoms of the oesophageal cancer.

“So if a person is having some of these symptoms, especially when he or she is using cancer-causing substances, they should consult a gastroenterologist as early detection and diagnosis can result in complete treatment and cure of the disease,” he said.

He added that some people had misconceptions regarding the use of biopsy and endoscopy, which needed to be cleared. He stressed the need for creating awareness among the people about such misconceptions which often resulted in progress in disease and delayed treatment.

He said that many people approached healthcare professionals at the time when their disease had become incurable.

DUHS Vice Chancellor Prof Saeed Quraishy said that most the times, oesophageal cancer was diagnosed very late in Pakistan and by the time, a case was reported at a health facility, the chances of the patient’s treatment were very low. He called for raising awareness among the people so that early treatment of the disease could be initiated.

Calling for establishment of gastroenterology units at the district and taluka level hospitals for the early diagnosis of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, Prof Quraishy maintained that print, digital and social media should be used to increase awareness about early warning signs of diseases so that people could Approach qualified physicians for treatment.

Oncologist Dr Najib Naimatullah said that as per 2020 statistics, oesophageal cancer resulted in 5.5 per cent of all the cancer deaths around the world. He explained that it was the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

He maintained that the incidence of oesophageal cancer was constantly on the rise, especially among youngsters and even children, due to the use of Gutka that contained several carcinogenic compounds, tobacco and other hazardous compounds.

Surgeon Prof Sajida Qureshi from the DUHS discussed three patients who had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer but due to early detection and treatment, they were cured and now living a normal life.

She informed the event that the incidence of oesophageal cancer was 6.8 per cent in men and 5.3 per cent in women in Karachi and attributed it to the use of carcinogenic compounds. She said that at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, latest and free treatment of oesophageal cancer was available.

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