Dr Eric Zomawia, head of the pathology department in the civil hospital in Aizawl, said that Mizoram led the world in the number of cases of Hypopharynx cancer (Male), Tongue cancer (Male), Stomach cancer (male & female) and Esophageal cancer (male).
Zomawia said that Mizoram also has the dubious distinction of topping all states in six other types of cancer and Aizawl district is on top among districts, though other districts like Serchhip, Champhai, Lunglei and Mamit are not far behind.
The lifestyle of the people of the state, especially their extensive consumption of tobacco coupled with consumption of smoked meat, leads to the high incidence of cancer, he says.
Around 40 per cent of the cancer can be prevented by changing the lifestyle, he says.
Dr Jane R Ralte, officer-on-special duty and head of the Tobacco Cessation Clinic in the Aizawl Civil Hospital, confirmed the fact that tobacco chewing and smoking is highly prevalent among Mizo people.
Quoting the study report of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church Women Ministry in 2004, Ralte said that 1,85,557 members of the church are using tobacco which is 77 per cent of the total members of the church.
She said that 86,477 women of the church used tobacco, which is 47 per cent of the total women church members while only 23 per cent of the total church members are free from any form of tobacco.
As much as 22.1 per cent of the women indulge in smoking whereas the national figure is only 2.5, she says.
She said that 60 per cent of Mizo women are using other forms of tobacco (not smoking) while the national average is only 12.4 per cent.
”According to the National Family Health Survey conducted in 1998-99, Mizoram was in the first position in tobacco consumption which is clearly indicative of the fact that Mizoram leads in cancer incidence,” she said during a seminar on Cancer Prevention, organized by the Rotary Club of Aizawl on May 15 last.
Stressing the need for a tobacco-free environment in Mizoram, she said that second hand smoke inhalation increased the risk of heart disease and lung cancer by 25 per cent, endangering the lives of children and other non-smokers.
The traditional way of initiating smoking habit to young people at the tender age of 13 by the Mizo society, though discontinued since the past few decades, still haunts the older people, she said.
Young boys and girls were introduced to smoking by their parents, as they had to work in the jhums infested by mosquitoes.
Zomawia agreeing with Ralte says that stomach cancer has the highest incidence among Mizos, both male and female, and it is 53.1 per cent among the male while it is 32.8 per cent among females.
Lung cancer and esophagus came next and were also mainly caused by smoking, he said.
He, however, said that consumption of fermented pork, smoked meat and vegetable and poisoned wild animal meat, including fish and crabs, being consumed almost regularly in the Mizo society is also attributed to the high incidence of cancer.
Zomawia said that the Centre, seized of the gravity of the situation, has given recognition to the Aizawl Civil Hospital as the Regional Cancer Centre and a Population Based Cancer Registry is also established in Aizawl.
The oncology department in the hospital is also equipped with telecobalt machine, day care centre (chemotherapy), brachyterapy CT Scan, Mammography, Bronchoscopy and endoscopies.
He also said that apart from setting up the Tobacco Cessation Clinic, a Diagnostic and Research Centre has been established with specialists in surgical oncology, medical oncology, radiation oncology and pediatric and gaynae oncology now in place.
Asked why majority of the cancer patients were referred to places like Mumbai, Delhi and Vellore, he said that it was the lack of knowledge about the technical capabilities now available in Aizawl.