Lying at the southernmost tip of the North Eastern Region (NER) of India,surrounded by Manipur, Assam and Tripura states of India, and sharing its international border with Myanmar and Bangladesh, Mizoram is home to evergreen hills, the Blue Mountains, lush green jungles of bamboo, sparkling waterfalls and gushing rivers. Its geographical diversity makes Mizoram a state richly endowed with virgin beauty of Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, Mizoram also has the dubious distinction of being known as the Cancer Capital of India, attributed mainly to extensive consumption of tobacco by the Mizo people including women. According to a report, more than three persons succumb to cancer every day in this sparsely populated state. During last five years, a total of 5,888 cases of cancer were detected,which included 2,695 women patients. During the same period, cancer claimed 3,137 lives, including 1,290 women. According to the state health department, stomach cancer is the most common cancer among males, while lung cancer is the most prevalent in the females. Overall, most prevalent types of malignancy are of stomach, lungs, cervix, liver and nasopharynx.
Tobacco use in the form of smoking is well known to be associated with stomach cancer, one of the commonest cancers in the world, with perhaps highest incidence among males in Changle in China and among females in Yamagata in Japan. The people of Mizoram have their ancestral roots in China. In addition, due to their peculiar tobacco smoking habits and use of other tobacco products, Mizoram today reports the highest incidence of stomach cancer in the world. Tobacco smoking rate is also equally high among adults in Mizoram. Certain unique forms of tobacco unknown to the world outside of Mizoram have been used widely used for centuries. One such form, named“Tuibur”, a tobacco smoke-saturated aqueous concentrate, is highly prevalent in Mizoram. A recent study carried out by DBT-supported State Biotech Hub at Mizoram University in Aizawl, has highlighted widespread use of Tuibur among adolescents and adults of both sexes in Mizoram. The prevalence of tobacco usage comprised forms, viz., smoked form (31.0 %) and smokeless form, i.e., Tuibur (30.2 %).
Recognizing the need to address the cultural issue of widespread addiction to tobacco, and to unravel the genetic factors underlying susceptibility to develop deadly cancer, DBT has promoted collaborative studies between scientists at the Mizoram University, Aizawl and National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani. Furthermore, recognizing that accurate and precise diagnosis is the cornerstone of any successful cancer treatment, DBT has established a “Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory” at the Mizoram State Cancer Institute (MSCI), Aizawl (Mizoram), which is contributing to not only enhancing the quality of comprehensive cancer care but also to quality research in understanding the factors underlying high incidence of cancer in the State. Ongoing studies have revealed that distinct mitochondrial gene alterations may contribute to both gastric and breast cancer risk in Mizoram. The study has identified a significant correlation between the number of mtDNA in COI and D-loop genes. Significantly, cigarette smoking and other tobacco products, Smoked meat and Fermented food products were found to be significantly correlated with risk of Breast and Gastric cancer. Nuclear gene alterations (GSTM1 and/or GSTT1 homozygous gene deletions, E-cadherin and TP53 genes) in Mizo population are also involved in Carcinogenesis and are associated with tobacco use. In yet another study, there are preliminary observations about infectious agents like Helicobacter pylori and Epstein Barr Virus being implicated in adenocarcinoma of the stomach.
The campaign to address the formidable challenge of controlling cancer has already begun in Mizoram. Hopefully, biotechnology tools will provide efficient means for overcoming the scourge of cancer.