World Cancer Day is observed every year on February 4. It aims to raise awareness of cancer and encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.
Cancer is the third cause of death in Iran and annually 92,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed in the country.
Last week, on the sidelines of the first conference on prevention and early diagnosis of cancer, Iraj Harirchi, deputy health minister pointed to the burden of the disease and its direct and indirect costs.
“Cancer costs $2.5 billion (100,000 billion rials) each year, of which $750 million (30,000 billion rials) is direct cost” (for costly medications), he noted.
Stating that sales data on cancer drugs from the Health Ministry is used to calculate the share of direct costs of the disease, he said, “Around $375 million (15,000 billion rials) is spent on chemotherapy drugs, which is the cheapest way to enhance the five-year survival rate for the disease,” Salamat News reported.
About 83% of the direct costs are paid by the government and the remaining by the affected people.
Indirect costs are resources lost due to inability to work and cancer deaths. The latest estimated annual mortality of cancer was 30,000 deaths, accounting for 8% of all deaths in the country.
Although the rate of cancer deaths has significantly decreased compared to the past decades, the average survival rate is far lower than the global average of 66%. “The survival rate is 30 to 35% in Iran,” he said.
Many cancers are preventable and some treatable if diagnosed early. Unfortunately, most Iranians are not aware of the early signs and symptoms of cancers. A recent survey showed that only 5% to 6% of Iranian women have adequate information on the symptoms and risk factors of breast cancer which is one of the most common cancers among women.
After skin cancer, stomach cancer is the most common. The rates of new cases diagnosed with the disease are highest in the northern and northwest regions including Ardebil, Semnan, Golestan and Tehran provinces.
Stomach cancer incidence rates have been reported at 49.1 and 25.4 per 100,000 in males and females, respectively. “It is not common in central and southern parts. The lowest rate of the cancer has been reported in Yazd Province,” says Dr. Reza Paknezhad, a cancer epidemiologist.
The main cause for high rate of the cancer in Ardebil Province is the excessive rates of Helicobacter pylori infection in the area. H. pylori are a type of bacteria that can enter the body from food and water and live in the digestive tract. After many years, they can cause ulcers in the lining of the stomach. For some people, an infection can lead to stomach cancer.
“Other risk factors for stomach cancer include high rates of red meat and salt consumption, low intakes of antioxidant-rich foods and smoking,” he added.
Additionally, breast cancer accounts for about 25% of all cancers diagnosed among Iranian women. The disease risk factors include pregnancy before the age of 18, late-onset of menopause, and long-term consumption of birth control pills. Breast cancer incidence rate is 17.4 to 23.1 per 100,000 in the country.
“Although colon cancer is the fourth common cancer in the country after skin, stomach, and breast cancers, its incidence rate is growing dramatically due to the unhealthy life styles and diets of people,” Paknezhad said.
The five most common cancers (other than skin cancer) are stomach, esophagus, colon-rectum, bladder and leukemia in men, and breast, esophagus, stomach, colorectal and cervix uteri in women. The incidence rates of gastrointestinal cancers are high in Iran.
Breast cancer affects Iranian women about a decade earlier than western countries, and younger people are affected by an increasing rate of colorectal cancer.
The overall incidence rate of cancer in Iran is lower at 134 cases for every 100,000 population, while the global average figure stands at 188 per 100,000.