Bridging the Gap: Prostate Cancer Awareness and Care in India
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on this prevalent yet often misunderstood form of cancer. To address some common questions and concerns regarding prostate cancer, we spoke to a panel of experts in the field: Dr. Amit Joshi, a medical oncologist at TATA Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, Dr. Gagan Prakash, a surgical oncologist, and Dr. Rajesh Shukla from Marsh and Company. Their insights provide valuable information on the prevention, early detection, and treatment of prostate cancer.
Dr. Amit Joshi, a prominent medical oncologist at TATA Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, underlines the significance of September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. This month serves as an opportunity to address the many questions and concerns that cancer patients and their families face.
One of the primary fears surrounding prostate cancer is its potential to spread to other parts of the body. Dr. Joshi acknowledges the genuine concerns of both patients and their families who seek effective treatment methods. The good news is that with proper treatment and periodic check-ups, the survival rate for prostate cancer is notably high.
In the fight against prostate cancer, different lines of treatment are available for patients, especially those with metastatic prostate cancer. When these treatment options are applied correctly, patients often see positive results and even complete recovery from the disease.
Dr. Joshi also addresses the financial aspect of cancer treatment. While the costs can be significant, he notes that in two-thirds of cases, the expenses are higher, which can be a significant burden for patients and their families. Nonetheless, it’s essential to recognize that affordable options are available for those in need.
Dr. Joshi’s insights underscore the importance of early detection, timely treatment, and ongoing support for prostate cancer patients.
Dr. Gagan Prakash, a distinguished Surgical Oncologist, sheds light on the unique characteristics of prostate cancer and the importance of screening and treatment advancements. Prostate cancer differs from other forms of cancer, and Dr. Prakash emphasizes two critical aspects of its management.
Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test:
The PSA blood test is a primary tool for screening prostate cancer. It measures the levels of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. Foreign countries have implemented policies advising men above the age of 55 to undergo regular PSA testing. While this led to an increase in diagnosed cases, a positive outcome emerged. A significant number of cases were detected at very early stages, with fewer than 10% progressing to metastatic disease.
Early Detection and Treatment Advancements:
Compared to Western countries, India currently has a higher percentage of patients diagnosed with advanced-stage prostate cancer, contrasting with only 10% diagnosed in the early stage. Dr. Prakash acknowledges that things are changing with the advent of advanced laboratories and more widespread PSA testing, leading to early-stage diagnoses. However, he stresses that there is still room for improvement in terms of early detection.
Robotic Surgery Breakthrough:
In the realm of surgical treatment, Dr. Prakash highlights the remarkable advancement of state-of-the-art robotic surgery. This innovative approach enhances precision and patient outcomes, offering a breakthrough in the surgical management of prostate cancer.
Dr. Gagan Prakash’s insights underscore the significance of early detection through PSA testing and the potential for improved patient outcomes. He also emphasizes the promising developments in surgical techniques, offering hope and improved quality of life for those affected by prostate cancer.
Dr. Rajesh Shukla, from Marsh and Company and former VP of TATA AIG, addresses a significant challenge in India’s healthcare landscape, particularly when dealing with complex diseases like cancer: the substantial financial burden faced by patients and their families. He highlights the vital role that insurance companies can play in alleviating this financial strain.
Dr. Shukla emphasizes the growing awareness among the masses, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, of the importance of health insurance. He underscores the need for adequate insurance coverage, especially in the context of cancer care.
In India, the government provides several policies for cancer care, allowing patients to access treatment according to these policies. Additionally, private insurance companies offer specific cancer care insurance plans, although there is a lack of awareness about these options among citizens.
Addressing common misconceptions, Dr. Shukla clarifies that many insurance plans cover chemotherapy, and some even cover oral chemotherapy, a significant development compared to the past. Like other industries, the insurance sector has been evolving over time, adapting to the changing healthcare landscape.
Dr. Shukla points out that while insurance comes with a yearly premium, it caters to three layers of society: the marginalized, middle-class, and higher-income categories. Importantly, he notes that insurance is no longer a “push product” but has become an essential component of securing one’s health, given the increasing influence of medical costs.
Lastly, Dr. Shukla acknowledges the government’s efforts to expand health coverage through initiatives like Ayushman Bharat, working to ensure that more people have access to healthcare coverage. These endeavors signify a collective commitment to providing comprehensive and affordable healthcare options, particularly in the context of managing the financial aspects of cancer care.
Dr. Ishan Patel, representing Pfizer Multinational Company, underscores the multifaceted nature of cancer care and its importance in every stage of the patient’s journey, from awareness and diagnosis to treatment and post-treatment care. The entire spectrum must work cohesively to provide comprehensive support for individuals facing this challenging disease.
Pfizer, as a company, is committed to leaving no stone unturned in raising awareness about cancer among the general public. Spreading awareness is a crucial step in early detection and better management of the disease.
Dr. Patel highlights a significant factor in bridging the gap in cancer care—the role of family physicians. These primary care providers are often the first point of contact when a person falls ill. It is essential that these physicians are well-informed about cancer and possess a basic understanding of the disease. They can play a pivotal role in referring patients to the right oncologists when there is suspicion of cancer.
Furthermore, Dr. Patel mentions studies that reveal an alarming statistic: on average, a cancer patient incurs costs ranging from Rs. 3 lakh to 3.5 lakh above their insurance coverage during the pre-diagnosis stage. This underscores the importance of early detection to minimize the financial burden on patients and their families.
In conclusion, Dr. Ishan Patel’s insights highlight the necessity of a comprehensive approach to cancer care, involving all stakeholders, from awareness campaigns to healthcare professionals and support systems. It emphasizes the importance of early detection, timely referrals, and the crucial role of family physicians in the fight against cancer.
Mr. Murthy, a cancer survivor and a dedicated member of the “Men Can” initiative launched by TATA Memorial Hospital, has a profound understanding of the challenges that cancer patients face. Having battled the disease, himself, he can empathize with the physical and mental stress that accompanies a cancer diagnosis and the substantial financial burden that treating cancer can entail.
One of the key issues that Mr. Murthy highlights is the disparity in awareness between cancers affecting men and those related to women. While there is significant awareness about women’s cancers, there is comparatively less knowledge about cancers that impact men. This awareness gap can lead to late-stage cancer diagnoses, often at Stage III or IV, which can significantly reduce the chances of successful treatment.
Mr. Murthy’s mission, as a member of “Men Can,” is to address this gap in awareness and promote early detection of men’s cancers. By educating men about the signs and symptoms of these diseases and encouraging them to seek timely medical attention, he aims to ensure that men are better equipped to navigate the challenges of cancer. The ultimate goal is to improve the chances of early diagnosis and better outcomes for men facing cancer.
Urvashi Prasad, the Director of NITI Aayog, emphasizes the multifaceted challenges associated with cancer-related issues, acknowledging that these complexities will continue to grow. Access to basic cancer treatment remains a challenge for many individuals, and the cost of treatment adds another layer of difficulty.
However, Prasad highlights that government efforts at various levels are dedicated to providing the best possible care, especially for marginalized populations. These initiatives strive not only to ensure quality treatment but also address critical aspects such as nutrition, social support, and mental health impacts.
NITI Aayog’s overarching objective is to offer holistic support to cancer patients, helping them navigate the complexities of their disease while aiming for the best possible outcomes. Their commitment reflects a comprehensive approach to cancer care that goes beyond medical treatment, recognizing the importance of addressing the broader needs of patients undergoing cancer treatment.
In conclusion, while prostate cancer awareness is growing, there is still much work to be done in educating the public, especially men, about the risks and importance of early detection. By promoting awareness, understanding insurance options, and emphasizing early diagnosis, we can make progress in the battle against prostate cancer and reduce its financial impact on patients and their families.