By Azizullah Sharif
Prominent ENT surgeon, Dr Qaiser Sajjad said here that oral cancer is `geometrically’ increasing in Pakistan and attributed the disease to the habit of eating betel nuts (Chalia in different forms), gutka and use of tobacco in any form.
In an exclusive interview with the Medical News, Dr Sajjad, who had been practicing in Karachi for the last 35 years and had conducted extensive research vis-à-vis the plight of victims of gutka, chalia, etc, regretted that though the country’s market is flooded with as many as 122 different brands of inferior quality chalia and sweet supari, there is no check and balance on their sale. “We don’t produce betel nuts but a huge amount of precious foreign exchange was being wasted on the import of fungal-infested betel nuts in the country and the same is being sold in markets in attractive packing.
Dr Qaiser Sajjad,who is a 1981 graduate of Sindh Medical College (now Jinnah Sindh Medical University (JSMU), did his Diploma in Otorhinolaryngology and Master of Surgery (MS) in the same subject.
He is currently finance secretary of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA-Centre) and had earlier served as general secretary of PMA Karachi chapter. He is also founder trustee of SMC Alumni, Pakistan, as well as its elected general secretary since last three years. Dr Sajjadis a member of governing body of Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi and in his capacity as chairman of the ACP’s medical and social welfare committee had set up a clinic for its members.
Talking about the hazards of betel nut, DrSajjad said: “Even a good quality chalia can cause problems like cancer as the juice of betel nut is carcinogen (any substance that, when exposed to living tissues, may cause the production of cancer).
In support of his contention that even good quality chalia could cause oral cancer, DrSajjad recalled that though the renowned playwright and a former adviser to Sindh chief minister on cultural affairs, Fatima SurayyaBajia, popularly known as BajiaAapa, died a natural death, she had earlier developed oral cancer because of her habit of chewing betel nut and the stuff she used to take was of best quality. “BajiaAapa was fully recovered from her oral cancer problem because she timely contacted doctors, got biopsy and had successful treatment,” he added.
Citing another example in this regard, he said that prominent radio artiste and broadcaster, Imtiaz Saheb, who too used to eat good quality chaliaand was a smokerhad become victim of cancer of vocal cord.
SWEET SUPARI: Terming fungal-infested betel nuts and sweet supari `poisonous’,Dr Sajjad said that betel nuts are highly dangerous because it is adulterated with chemicals, blood, charas, while sweet supari contains artificial colour which is nothing but textile colour -, a carcinogen.
LIVER CANCER: Elaborating, he said that it has also been proved that when fungus-infested betel nut is routinely taken, it acts as a carcinogen and thus causes liver cancer. “Juice of betel nut, artificial colour, fungus are all carcinogen, he cautioned.
At the outset of his interview, DrSajjad, who had wide experience of treating oral cancer patients, said that the disease is hundred per cent curable provided it was timely diagnosed and treated.
In this regard, he advised the people not to take even a small ulcer (Chala) lightly, saying that if a small ulcer continues to persist for 15-20 days even after its treatment, it is required to be investigated through biopsy. “Biopsy is a simple test for diagnosing the growth of ulcer.
Urging the people to avoid eating chalia in its any form, sweet supari,gutka, Dr Sajjad said that one must know that diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer was very costly and if an oral cancer patient undergoes surgery, he or she might be requiring expensive chemotherapy or radiation process.
RHINITIS: Talking of other ENT-related diseases, he said that rhinitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis are very common among Karachiites and allergic rhinitis, particularly among children and causes of the diseases include polluted atmosphere, sedentary lifestyle and unbalanced dietary habits.
Most of the ENT problems are merely because of environmental pollution, habit of drinking cold water, beverages and the poisonous fumes being emitted by vehicular traffic in the city, he said, adding passive smoking and mushroom growth of Sheesha cafes were causing havoc with the lives of the young generation.
Quoting a World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report, Dr Sajjad said: “If one sits in a Sheesha café for two hours, it amounts to inhaling smoke of 200 cigarettes.”
Emphasizing the need for creating awareness about hazards of chalia, sweet supari, gutka, Dr Sajjad urged the government to impose a ban on the import of chalia and bring an immediate halt to the sale, manufacturing and marketing of gutkaand sweet supari across the country.