THIRUVANANTHAPURAM — Beedi, which has been known for a long time to be a source of cancers of the lung and oral cavity, is also a causative risk factor for gastric malignancy, says a study by the Regional Cancer Centre here.     

Beedi smokers have an elevated risk for gastric cancer, compared to ‘never smokers,’ according to the first cohort study on the subject in the country, a top RCC official said.    

The study ‘Gastric Cancer Risk in Relation to Tobacco Use and Alcohol Drinking in Kerala, India,’ recently carried out at Karunagappally in the coastal district of Kollam, covered 65,553 men between the ages of 30 and 84 years during the 1990-2009 period.     

RCC Director Dr. Paul Sebastian, also the principal investigator and co-author of the study, said, “A detailed analysis conducted as part of the current study revealed that beedi is a major causative factor for gastric cancers.     

“The study explored at length the association between GC and various types of tobacco and alcohol use.   

“Beedi smoking was found to increase the risk of GC among never cigarette smokers more evidently with a relative risk of 2.2,” he said.     

“Earlier, studies in Karunagappally have proven that beedi is a causative factor for larynx, pharynx and oesophagus,” he said.     

He batted for the creation of targeted awareness about the harms of beedi smoking and tobacco use among vulnerable groups coupled with a World Health Organization-recommended rate of taxes to curb consumption and stricter enforcement of tobacco control laws in light of these findings.     

WHO has said that tobacco taxes should be to the tune of 65-70 percent of retail prices.     

“The burden of cancers, especially preventable cancers such as those from tobacco use, are on the increase in Kerala, and immediate measures are needed for the well-being of our people, especially the poorer sections,” Sebastian added.     

Dr. P. Jayalakshmi, associate professor of cancer epidemiology at RCC, who led the study, said, “GC risk increases with the number and duration of beedi smoking.    

“Those who started beedi smoking below the age of 18 and between 18-22 years of age had a relative risk of 2.0 and 1.8, respectively, of developing gastric cancers as compared to the risk faced by ‘never-beedi smokers,’” she said.   

Relative risk is a statistical measure that explains the probability of developing a disease — the higher the relative risk, the higher the risk.    

During the period 1990-1997, every resident of Karunagappally was surveyed for socio-demographic and other lifestyle-related factors as part of the study.     

A detailed questionnaire was used to obtain information on aspects such as household socio-economic status, religion, education, income and occupation along with lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking habits, and dietary practices, she said.

In what could send a strong signal to public health advocates, the study found a significant association between gastric cancer incidence and occupational patterns.     

Of the 116 gastric cancers identified at the end of the study in 2009, 51 cases were among farmers and fishermen, followed by 28 cases among those with white-collar jobs, it said.     

The study has been supported jointly by the Department of Atomic Energy, Union Government, the Health Research Foundation, Japan, and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.     

It was published in a recent issue of the prestigious World Journal of Gastroenterology, RCC officials added.

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