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.

Audience

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.

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.

Pioneering partnerships

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.

Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy ProVice Chancellor, University of Birmingham 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.”

Cancer survival rates 

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.

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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Impact of study

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.

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