The threat of cancer in India is growing day by day as the medical field advances, demographic factors, mutation in DNA, incompetent health services by the private sector and delayed diagnosis and treatment. In India, the cancer burden has doubled over the last 26 years. The four main cancers that are most common and pose a threat to the huge population of the country are breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, and lung cancer which together constitute 41% of cancer burden. Oral cancer is the number one cancer among males and breast cancer among females. Here is an overview of the most common cancers and their reasons in different regions of India:


  • North-east region: It has the highest cancer rate. The most common cancers are oral and stomach cancer due to tobacco and household burning of firewood.
  • West Bengal: The leading cancers are urinary bladder cancer and lung cancer due to air and water pollution. 
  • South and coastal region: Due to a diet rich in salts, the people here suffer mainly from stomach cancer.
  • Goa: Due to the extreme consumption of red meat, alcohol, and tobacco, colon cancer is the most common.
  • Gujarat and Rajasthan: Most leading cancers are head and neck cancer due to tobacco and pan masala.
  • Punjab, Malwa Belt: This area has all cancers higher than average. Due to pollution and pesticide toxin in food, people here suffer from Kidney, urinary bladder and breast cancer.


As India continues to age, a recent study shows that cancer cases will double every 20 years. “People gradually move from high birth and high death state like India was in 1900 to high birth and low death and then a low birth and low death phase when deaths from infectious diseases get controlled. Life expectancy keeps on increasing and hence degenerative diseases and cancers increase,” said Mallath, who is a senior doctor at the department of digestive diseases at TMC. This is termed Epidemiological Transition Levels (ETL) by public health experts. India’s states are at different ETL stages; while Kerala is strong, Uttar Pradesh is lowest. The lower ETL countries have a stronger index of growth and higher cancer rates.

Almost 40% to 50% of cancers are due to mutations during DNA replication and the longer a person lives, the higher the chances of accumulation of random mutations. That means if a person doesn’t die at a young age due to infection or trauma, chances are that she/he will die at an older age from non-communicable disease, including cancer. Cancer in India will bear the biggest burden in the next 10-20 years, as cancer cases will double every 20 years. 

For now, the only solution to this future seems early detection and prevention of cancer. Governments should do everything possible to diagnose cancer early and treat it properly. Patients suffer in the confusion between the co-responsibilities of the Center-State. The state should not abandon the cancer care system to private hospitals. There is no question that out-of-pocket spending for private care is much higher.