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[SRINAGAR] Rising incidence of cancers of the upper digestive tract in India's Kashmir province, and a lack of comprehensive research data on the disease, are causing concern, according to scientists.

The trend is "a matter of concern for both doctors and the authorities in Kashmir," Munemasa Ryu, former director and chief surgeon of the National Cancer Centre of Tokyo, Japan, said at a meeting on cancers of the alimentary canal held in Srinagar this month (1 February).

Sameer Naqash, a gastroenterologist at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar, said the conference was convened after a study on 8,000 patients, conducted between 2007 and 2010 at SKIMS, showed increasing incidence in cancers of the oesophagus and stomach in southern Kashmir.

"Kashmir has a gastric malignancy incidence of 50 to 60 out of 100,000, and 63 per cent of these malignancies occur in southern belt of Kashmir," Naqash said.

But the incidence of cancers of the upper digestive tract is significantly higher, members of the team led by Showkat Ali Zargar, professor at the department of gastroenterology at the SKIMS, told SciDev.Net

SKIMS records over the past three years show that 1,217 out of 8,056 cancer cases in the hospital had to do with the stomach and oesophagus.

Studies by Zargar's team in the 1990s had already shown a "significantly higher" incidence of cancers of the upper digestive tract in Kashmir, compared with other parts of India.

In contrast, a SKIMS study, conducted from 2005 to 2006 and involving 212 patients, indicated that, as with the rest of India, new cases of cancers of the lower digestive tract, or colorectal cancer, stood at a significantly lower 3.65 per 100,000 each year.

Scientists at the February meeting called for comprehensive research and data collection on cancers in the region.

According to Nazir Ahmad, a professor in the department of biochemistry at Kashmir University, Srinagar, studies conducted so far are sketchy and insufficient. "We don't have a cancer register, nor do we have any classified data," he said.