In the next few decades, the number of elderly people living with cancer is expected to increase significantly in Bangladesh but the country lacks preparedness to tackle the burden.

Aging is the single greatest risk factor for cancer.

Currently, about 7.88 per cent people are above 60 in Bangladesh, according to the latest Demographic Health Survey.

But people above 60 make up 29 per cent of the cancer patients who seek treatment at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital.

Bangladesh is headed to demographic transition with its middle-age population exceeding the other age groups by 2025 and the elderly forming the majority by 2050, according to latest report of Bangladesh Health Watch.

And the elderly with cardiac diseases, hypertension, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases better known as COPD are likely to complicate the treatment and management of older adults’ cancer in  Bangladesh in future, said a study recently disclosed at the Scientific Congress on Non-communicable Disease in the capital.

NICRH’s a group of medical oncologists conducted the study on the state of elderly patient’s cancer management and predicted that the country was headed to experience a ‘tsunami’ in the next few decades.

The study on ‘Geriatric Oncology and Bangladesh: A Clinical Jeopardy of Cancer Patient Management in the Near Future’ was released at the NCD congress, jointly hosted by icddr,b, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and the British Medical Journal.

The study revealed that over 29 per cent of the cancer patients who visit the NICRH are elderly people.

And over 56 per cent of the elderly patients already suffer from hypertension, diabetes and COPD to make it difficult to treat them.

‘Bangladesh is going to face a tsunami or the  surge of elderly cancer patients but the country is not prepared to address the issue,’ lead researcher Muhammad Rafiqul Islam told New Age.

‘Geriatric cancer treatment is becoming a big concern for Bangladesh by 2030 and the burden will be doubled by 2040,’ he said.

Rafiqul Islam said early detection, innovative treatment and supportive care are crucial for managing the burden of cancer, but Bangladesh’s preparedness in these sectors was  still poor. Another concern is the out-of-pocket high expenditure and people’s affordability to access cancer treatment in Bangladesh, the study said.

Currently, the out-of-pocket expenditure in Bangladesh is 67 per cent whereas the globally it is 32 per cent.

With about four to five million people in Bangladesh are trapped by poverty annually how they would afford healthcare.

‘Cost of drugs, limited financial capabilities and elderly people’s dependence on fixed or no income would play heavily in treatment decision,’ the study said.

Currently, among the non-communicable diseases cancer is the second highest cause of death in Bangladesh. Cancer prevalence is also very high with an estimated 1.3-1.5 million cancer patients and 200,000 new patients increase the burden annually in the country.

But the country miserably lacks in oncologists and cancer treatment facilities, experts said.

Bangladesh has barely 200 cancer doctors and only about 30 medical centres for extending treatment to the cancer patients.

Of the cancer treatment centres, the government runs 19, and only eight of them offer fully fledged services.

In September, the government approved a project to set up eight cancer centres in eight divisions of the country, each with 100 beds and 50 extra beds for palliative care.

NICRH head of cancer epidemiology Habibullah Talukder Ruskin said the cancer centres would go a long way in providing treatment to cancer patients.

‘Bangladesh still lags behind in ensuring  comprehensive cancer treatment faciliuties,’ he said.

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