Birmingham – Punjab partnership aims to tackle Indian women's cancer

Experts from the University of Birmingham today joined Indian partners to lay the foundations for a new study into women’s cancers that could help to diagnose, treat and prevent the disease.

Cancer specialists from the University are taking part in the two-day Punjab-Birmingham Women’s Cancer Genomics Workshop, in New Delhi.

Key partners from India and the UK plan to establish a cohort study to investigate the factors causing the three most common cancers in women – breast, cervical and ovarian - in the Punjab region.

AudienceAnd the workshop - delegates pictured above - brings key partners together for the first time to explore key issues and funding opportunities for the project.

The project links the University of Birmingham with a number of centres of excellence in India: Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, Punjab; National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kolkata; and Public Health Foundation of India.

Understanding how the cancers emerge in Indian patients will help to diagnose and prevent the disease in susceptible families. Improved risk-prediction models may allow cost-effective population-based screening and early detection programmes.

The study would also have health benefits in UK, as there is a large Punjabi population in the West Midlands region. Research findings could be applied to cancer patients and relatives within this group of people.

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Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy ProVice Chancellor, University of Birmingham - pictured above - opened the workshop. He said: “The University of Birmingham is uniquely placed to lead this partnership aimed at improving Punjabi women’s prospects of surviving and avoiding key female cancers.

“We aim to address India-specific questions on early detection, prevention and treatment, contributing to cutting-edge biomedical research in India. Working closely with the Punjabi population of India and the West Midlands will help us improve our understanding of these cancers.”

Whilst cancer incidence rates are relatively low in India, the mortality rate is very high, with fewer than 30% of patients surviving five years or longer after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for cancer patients in North America and Western Europe is around 60%.

India’s cancer burden is also predicted to nearly double in the next 20 years, with the number of new cases rising from slightly over a million new cases in 2012 to more than 1.7 million by 2035. The number of cancer deaths is expected to rise from about 680 000 to 1.2 million in the same period.

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Mrs Sudha Sundar, Senior Lecturer in Gynaecological Oncology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences - pictured above - said: “Delivery of affordable and equitable cancer care is one of India’s greatest public health challenges. There is a lack of cancer research that can guide early detection, prevention, and treatment strategies tailored to India.

“Differences in how cancers develop in Indian patients mean data from Western countries cannot be directly applied in India. Understanding the unique epidemiological, clinical and genetic backgrounds in Indian women with cancer will help risk prediction, diagnostic testing and prognostic research.”

She added that delayed diagnosis, along with inadequate, incorrect or inefficient treatment are the main reasons for poor cancer survival in India. Punjab is one of the Indian states with a higher incidence of cancer.

Prof Vanita Suri, Head of Department, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, PGIMER said: “This collaboration is a welcome initiative and will harness the advanced facilities at PGIMER and knowhow in cancer genomics at Birmingham to help our Indian patients and their families combat cancer.

“Our team of multi-disciplinary experts of gynaecologists, Breast surgeons, pathologists, oncologists and public health at PGIMER look forward to working with our collaborators from the University of Birmingham to advance research in this important area and understand the impact of ethnicity on cancer causing genes.”

Changing demographics in India including rapid economic growth, increasing life expectancy, declining mortality from communicable diseases and changes in lifestyle are mirrored by a change in cancer profiles. Breast cancer is now the most common cancer diagnosed in women, followed by cervical cancer, with ovarian cancer as the fourth most common. 

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Notes to Editors 

  • The University of Birmingham (UoB) is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • It is proposed to conduct a cohort study of patients and family members with breast cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer presenting to PGIMER, Chandigarh, India.
  • Data will be collected on demographics, clinicopathological characteristics, survival, and exposure to carcinogens including pesticides. Targeted sequencing for known gene mutations will be performed at PGIMER with exon sequencing at NIMBG. Data would be analysed with the University of Birmingham.
  • Speakers at the workshop include:

-       Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, World Health Organisation Regional Director for SE Asia

-       Dr Ted Trimble, Director, Centre for Global Health, National Cancer Institute.

-       Professor Ravi Mehrotra, Director National Institute of Cancer Prevention & Research

-       Professor Jon-Baptiste Cazier, Director, Centre for Compuational Biology, UoB

-       Dr Arindam Maitra, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics

-       Professor Arun Grover, Vice Chancellor,Punjab University

-       Prof Manoj Arora, Director PEC Institute of Technology.

-       Professor Vanita Suri, Head of Department, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, PGIMER

-       Professor JS Thakur. Head of Department, Public Health, PGIMER

-       Dr Preet Dhillon, Epidemiologist, Centre for Chronic Disease and Injury, Public Health   Foundation of India

  • The Punjab region in India has deep cultural and family links at multiple levels with the West Midlands region of the UK. The Indian Punjabi diaspora came to the UK in the 1950s and have settled in the major conurbations, including Birmingham. They are a heterogeneous group with majority being Sikhs - 432,429 in UK [2011 Census].

For more information or interviews, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or  +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.