Finally, the state government has decided to set up a full-fledged oncology department at the Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) at Bambolim. The department would be headed by Dr Anupama Borkar, a noted medical oncologist presently working in Mumbai. The search is on for other specialists for the department. An oncology department was necessary in view of a large number of cancer cases reported every year in the state. At least three cases of cancer are detected daily in the state: the need for a cancer treatment facility was long felt. The facility will be a blessing to Goans who have to travel to hospitals in other states to avail treatment. Though the central government had granted permission to the state government to start an oncology department at the GMCH way back in 2013 and even sanctioned an amount of Rs 45 crore, the indecisiveness on the part of state authorities kept the proposal in a limbo. Now that the government has decided to set up a cancer treatment facility it should create the necessary infrastructure and hire the required medical and paramedical staff as soon as they can.
Breast, stomach, and colon cancers are the most common cancers in Goa, accounting for over 40 per cent of all new cancer cases reported by the surgery department of GMCH. Around 20 per cent of the patients are diagnosed with cancers of kidney, urinary bladder and prostrate. On an average 900 people were reported to have been diagnosed with cancers of different parts. Over a thousand new cases are detected every year. According to senior doctors at the GMCH, most of the patients detected with cancer in the past were in the age group of 40 and above; of late people in the age group of 20-35 have also been detected with the dreaded disease. Despite wide prevalence of cancer the state did not have specialists to treat the patients. The government must find surgical oncologists and radiotherapy oncologists to make the oncology department fully functional at the earliest. The government may depute some of the doctors at the GMCH for training at reputed hospitals for cancer care. Currently, the workload on GMCH departments such as general, surgery, medicine, gynaecology, urology and paediatrics in treating cancer patients is around 30 per cent.
The work on setting up the oncology department should begin on a war footing. Cancer treatment nowadays is technology-driven, so the state government must make adequate allocations to acquire the best technologies. Since radiation therapy is a key component of management and treatment in more than half of new cancer patients, the government must get the latest equipment for the purpose. According to experts, the government should acquire the latest linear accelerator treatment machinery for radiation therapy. It must also hire well-trained technical personnel for operating the machines. Because if the machines are there but there are no trained men to operate them, it would not serve any purpose. The government would do well to buy machines from companies that have established reputation and established line of research and product and quality improvement commitments. This is necessary because research has a tendency to make a technology obsolete or slower or clumsier; a company with an established line of production and research and development department would be able to supply new technologies in radiation therapy.
The cancer treatment facility at the GMCH is estimated to cost Rs 100 crore. If that much allocation suffices for the infrastructure, the latest technologies and the salaries of the medical and surgical oncologists and paramedical staff, that would be fine. But if lack of funds delays the setting up of the facility or constrains the facility to acquire the new technological equipment, the central and state governments must make more funds available. The state government would be saving the crores of rupees it was spending as part of medical insurance in making cancer treatment available in other states to patients from the state. We should not expect the new cancer treatment facility at the GMCH to start giving cancer treatment at par with the best hospitals in the country. It will take time to develop. People of Goa must not turn impatient about it. The state government should keep the provision that in case a cancer patient needs a kind of treatment or care that can only be provided by a hospital in another state, he or she should be referred by the GMCH cancer treatment facility, with assurance of coverage of cost as in the insurance scheme.