Betelnut causes mouth cancer

A SUDDEN increase of mouth cancer cases in the Highlands in PNG has been associated with the extensive chewing of betelnut.
Dr John Niblett, the country’s only radiation oncologist and director of the Angau Hospital cancer treatment unit, said it was unfortunate that people in the Highlands did not care about the sudden increase in mouth cancer and opted to ignore it.  
The sharp increase was related to an increase in the chewing of betelnut in the region, he said.
Dr Niblett said although not clinically proven yet, there was a strong correlation between the chewing of betel nut and mouth cancer. Mostly heavy chewers get cancer.
Dr Niblett said it was most likely that lime used in the chewing of betel nut caused burns in the mouth which led to mouth cancer. 
Dr Cathy Timothy, a physician with Angau’s medical oncology department, said mouth cancer was deadly but  betel nut chewers ignored the danger.
“We have shown pictures of terminal stages of mouth cancer but people simply ignore these and go on chewing without a care,” she said, adding that there was no clinical proof of the causes of the different forms of cancer.
“We say smoking causes lung cancer and betel nut chewing causes mouth cancer but there is no clear-cut clinical proof of what actually causes cancer,” Dr Timothy said.   
In order of prevalence in the country, cervix cancer leads with mouth cancer and breast cancer following.
Dr Niblett said there had been a dramatic increase of cancer cases in PNG since the ‘70s and attributed it mostly to drastic dietary changes. 
He said some cases were hereditary. He recently said of an estimated 2,000 cancer victims in PNG, fewer than 400 get treated annually while the rest succumbed to the disease.
In the meantime, cervix cancer patients now have hope with a new brachytheraphy unit at the cancer unit to be opened for treatment today.

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