The incidence of cancer among Pakistani children has reached alarming proportions with some 700 cases reported in last two years. It has been found that the causes are not so much genetic but linked to pollution and other environmental hazards, experts say.
The oncology ward of the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) had recorded 1,200 cases of cancer among children in 2005. This number has now risen to 1,900, The News reported Sunday.
The oncology ward was established in 1999 with assistance from various philanthropists. According to its head, Uzma Imam, the facility registered around 50 cancer patients in its first year. Last year, around 300 patients were registered for long-term treatment.
Around 40 percent of the cases were hereditary in nature, while 60 percent were sporadic, primarily caused by pollution and exposure to X-rays during pregnancy.
High-tension wires, smoking (both active and passive) and viruses were also major contributory factors, Imam pointed out.
One kind of cancer - retinoblastoma - has mostly been found in interior Sindh and this could be caused by marriages between cousins, she added.
A laboratory was set up at NICH last month and samples were collected for analysis to ascertain the exact reasons of this type of cancer, Imam pointed out.
She stressed on the need to create awareness for timely treatment of cancer, as 70 percent of the cases were curable. For this, she suggested a media campaign on the pattern of those for diarrhoea, family planning and vaccination.
According to Nizamul Hasan of the Child Aid Association (CAA) that has contributed toward the oncology ward, arsenic levels in the soil have increased manifold and this could be a major reason for the high incidence of cancer among children.