On the occasion of National Cancer Awareness Day — observed annually in India on November 7 — we are putting the spotlight on the corporates running CSR programmes for increased awareness about cancer prevention and early detection. The overall survival of Indian patients with cancer is about 30% lower than the developed countries and its economic fallout is devastating. Data from regional cancer centres in India suggest that lower survival is primarily due to delayed diagnosis and presentation in late stages. So, various corporate social responsibility have been initiated over the years to increase research on the prevention and early detection of cancer.
Tata Trusts’ entry into cancer care dates back to 1941 when the Tata Memorial Hospital opened in Mumbai as a ‘beacon of hope for the hopeless’. The management of the hospital was handed over to the Ministry of Health in 1962. In 2012, the Trusts launched the Tata Medical Center in Kolkata to address the high prevalence of cancer and the lack of suitable facilities in the eastern and north-eastern region. In the last few years, the cancer vertical has increased momentum and has launched initiatives that encompass the entire range of cancer care from preventive to palliative.
The Trusts are setting up cancer research and treatment centres in Varanasi, Tirupati, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Allahabad and Mangalore. As part of a comprehensive nationwide intervention, the Trusts have supported the formation of the National Cancer Grid. The Grid is a pan-India network of major cancer centres, research institutes, patient groups and charitable institutions. The Trusts also support cross-subsidised screening programmes for common cancers; the aim of every initiative, including exploring the possibility of genetic testing, is to ensure greater awareness and accessibility to cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.
Part of Tata Trusts’ four-pronged strategy is developing awareness programmes and behaviour change communication using sports and games, cultural programmes rallies, storytelling, etc. Another part involves conducting community-based awareness programmes using different cohorts working in the community such as accredited social health activists (ASHAs), auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), NGOs, FBOs, Panchayat Raj institute members, community leaders and student bodies.
Each year approximately 1 million people in India are diagnosed with oral cancers. India has a peculiarity in harboring world’s highest number, nearly 20% of oral cancers. The age standardized incidence rate of oral cancer is 11.2%, mortality rate is 10.2% and prevalence rate is 12.6% per 100,000 populations amongst Indian men. More than two-thirds of patients report the cancer in an advanced stage. It is evident that most of the oral cancers are largely preventable, if detected early. But often there is a delay in diagnosis due to lack of awareness, inadequate diagnostic services, and lack of trained specialists.
There is evidence that direct visual examination of the oral cavity is a cost effective method for oral cancer screening in resource-constrained settings. However, conventional screening has few limitations. Rigid follow-up to monitor the progression of Oral Potentially Malignant Disorders (OPMD) is very critical in oral cancer surveillance programme.
To address the shortcomings in conventional screening, Biocon Foundation — the CSR arm of Biocon — introduced a mobile health (mHealth) programme. The Foundation has developed and implemented a mobile phone-based management platform for cancer screening and surveillance that enables the creation of electronic health records and facilitates targeted screening for Oral Cancer. The CSR programme empowers the frontline healthcare providers with mobile phone equipped with decision-based algorithm for early detection of oral cancer. This mHealth allows Electronic Data Capture (EDC) that provides a platform to connect specialists with rural population for diagnosis. It also creates an opportunity for follow up and referrals.
The screening process is evidence-based, as every patient has a unique patient identity correlated with their habit history and clinically-relevant photographs. Started in 2011, the award-winning CSR programme has been successfully implemented in various resource-constrained settings in partnership with Governments of Karnataka, Rajasthan and Nagaland.
The Oral Cancer screening programme won the 2017 CSR Journal Excellence Award. In 2020, the CSR programme was the recipient of a Jury Commendation Certificate from FICCI under the category of ‘Exemplary Innovation.’ Biocon Foundation forged a partnership with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru to develop artificial intelligence (AI) tools capable of detecting precancerous oral lesions; enabling point-of-care diagnosis for oral cancer. The Foundation has collaborated with the Shri Guru Ram Das University of Health Sciences, and the Tata Memorial Centre, to organize screenings in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and conduct research studies to establish the efficacy of its mobile phone-based (mHealth) screening process against conventional screening methods in resource-limited settings.
IT major Tata Consultancy Services has been assisting the Tata Translational Cancer Research Center at the Tata Medical Centre, Kolkata, in creating a better future for patients with cancer in India. TCS’ aim is to develop personalized treatments, diagnostics, and monitoring tools for these patients. Since November 2016, TCS has also been providing IT support to the National Oncology Digital Nerve Center. Key services include instant messaging support, telemedicine, and virtual follow-ups. TCS also provides a fully-integrated hospital management system free of cost to the Cancer Research Institute at Chennai.
State Bank of India
Breast Cancer is the most common form of cancer in India, with 1 in 8 women contracting the disease and 1,62,000 new cases every year. Moreover, 70% patients get diagnosed in advanced stages due to lack of screening. Funded by the Indian Institute of Banking & Finance and with SBI Foundation as the project partner and UE Life Sciences as the technology partner, ‘Swasth Mahila, Swasth Goa’ is an initiative by YouWeCan Foundation to provide a technology intervention in the form of iBreast devices as well as training and capacity building support to the Government of Goa to screen 1 lakh women for breast cancer in the State over a period of two years to ensure early detection and timely treatment of breast cancer. Moreover, free treatment will be provided for all positive cases with the support of the Government of Goa.
Under this CSR initiative, breast cancer screening is being conducted at 35 Health Centres across Goa along with multiple outreach camps. 20 iBreast devices will be deployed for the project – 10 in North Goa and 10 in South Goa. All the suspected cases will be referred to the Goa Medical College & Hospital and district hospitals for further investigations as well as complete treatment. Moreover, YouWeCan Foundation’s project team will facilitate training and capacity building of the Government’s health workers and auxiliary nurse midwives to screen for breast cancer using iBreast device. Training will also be conducted for counsellors and IEC officers on how to counsel the suspected cases.