Women more vulnerable to cancer in Punjab’s cotton fields

April 1st, 2008 - 7:33 pm ICT by admin  

Chandigarh, April 1 (IANS) Many more women than men are dying of cancer in the cotton-rich Malwa belt of southern Punjab - a full 25 percent more. This is in sharp contrast to the global trend where the number of men dying of cancer is 33 percent higher than the number of women. Large-scale use of pesticides in cotton farming is suspected to be the main cause.

A study done by journalist Bajinder Pal Singh for a European Commission funded project on cancer mortality in Punjab’s Malwa belt had revealed that the incidence of women dying of cancer in this area was 25 percent more than men.

“This is startling because a World Health Organisation (WHO) report says that 33 percent men die of cancer than women worldwide,” Singh said here Tuesday.

Singh’s report on the project titled “Cancer deaths in agricultural heartland: a study in Malwa belt of Indian Punjab” was submitted at the International Institute of Geo-information Science and Earth observation in The Netherlands earlier March.

The 18-month long study was on deaths that occurred in 30 randomly selected villages in eight districts of Punjab’s southern Malwa belt between 2002 and 2006. In this period, 256 deaths had taken place in the region - 142 women and 114 men.

Four of these districts - Bathinda, Muktsar, Mansa and Faridkot - are being studied by several health experts for their high cancer rate owing to large-scale use of pesticides in the cotton-growing areas.

The other four district covered by Singh were Ferozepur, Sangrur, Barnala and Moga.

“This study opens a new dimension to cancer studies in the region. Gender based studies in this regard have been few in number. The trend of more women prone to and dying from cancer may not be restricted to Punjab but might be prevalent in other states in India as well,” Singh pointed out.

What surprised Singh was that the pesticide-linked cancer theory might not be entirely applicable to this belt, as most women who died had nothing to do with farming. They were simple homemakers.

The number of deaths in 2002 had doubled in 2006, he pointed out.

“I suspect that the figures of lower number of men dying from cancer in Punjab could be owing to lesser consumption of tobacco (cigarettes) in the Sikh-dominated Punjab,” Singh said.

The Sikh religion prohibits the use of tobacco or smoking in any form.

Singh found that there was not even a single cancer hospital in the entire Malwa belt. Only four hospitals existed in the 30 villages studied. Shortage of doctors and absence of lady doctors contributed to the lack of awareness among women for early detection and treatment of cancer.

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