Early diagnosis of cancer still a far cry

By Arpana Adhikari

anchorKathmandu, Aug 8: Nepal still lacks the necessary diagnostic facility for early screening of cancer, although the number of cancer patients has, of late, increased alarmingly.

The PET\CT Scan facilities operated by some private companies have been closed following the shutting down of the Jet Airways in Nepal from May this year.
The Jet Airways was the only airline that was permitted to carry synchrotron radiation needed to operate the PET\CT Scanner machine.
Private companies like Sooriya Diagnostic Lazimpat, Kundalini Diagnostic Chappalkarkhana, Jivanta Advance and Medicinal Company and Kathmandu Emagic Pvt. Ltd had been operating PET\CT Scan service in cooperation with the Jet Airways.
After the closure of the service, the cancer patients are forced to travel to India to receive the service, which is also incurring a huge cost on the part of the patients.
PET\CT Scan is very important for early detection of cancer. It offers the latest option in imaging and screening technology, which is instrumental for early diagnosis, staging and post-treatment monitoring of cancer.
However, early cancer diagnosis and care has always been challenging in the country due to lack of access to health care, awareness and financial constraints.
Although there is no national survey record, it is estimated that approximately 30,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year in the country with 20,000 deaths.
The government seems not serious about taking any initiation to facilitate the early detection of cancer.
Cancer is curable if it is diagnosed and treated at the early stage. But the country still fails to bridge the huge gap in cancer diagnosis and providing access to cancer care.
Operating the diagnostic facilities had ended the burden of the Nepalis to travel to India for diagnosis reducing their overall treatment costs.
Dr. Sudip Shrestha, Cardiologist and Director of Nepal Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, said synchrotron radiation was a must to operate the PET\CT Scan machine. One had to follow security policy to take this radiation from one country to another, he said adding that all the staff members and pilots of the Jet Airways were trained to carry the radiation.
But the closure of the airlines has halted the import of the radiation, said Shrestha.
“Other airlines do not have such facility and trained crew members,” he said.
He said that the government must create a favourable environment to produce this radiation by its own. “If this will happen, the country can get the radiation at the half of its current price.”
According to Shrestha, to operate such service, the government needed to invest only Rs. 400 million.
“Since there were many legal barriers to carry the radiation, the government should invest in this sector to ensure that people of Nepal do not have to travel to India for diagnosis and thus make their overall cost of treatment affordable,” he added.
According to experts, if the synchrotron radiation was produced in the country, people could get this service at just Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000. Prior to the closure of the service, the private companies were charging Rs.50, 000 for each PET\CT Scan. The PET\CT Scan is the most commonly used method to detect cancer, heart problems and brain disorders, including problem with the central nervous system.
According to the doctors, cancer cells have a higher metabolic rate than non-cancerous cells. Because of this high level of chemical activity, cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET\CT Scan. The facility is used to see whether the cancer has spread or the treatment is working and to check the cancer recurrence, said Shrestha.  

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