Oral cancer is a major problem in the Indian subcontinent where it ranks among the top three types of cancer in the country. Age-adjusted rates of oral cancer in India are high that is, 20 per 100,000 population and accounts for over 30% of all cancers in the country. The variation in incidence and pattern of the disease can be attributed to the combined effect of ageing of the population, as well as regional differences in the prevalence of disease-specific risk factors.
Oral cancer is of significant public health importance to India. Firstly, it is diagnosed at later stages which result in low treatment outcomes and considerable costs to the patients whom typically cannot afford this type of treatment. Secondly, rural areas in middle- and low-income countries also have inadequate access to trained providers and limited health services. As a result, delay has also been largely associated with advanced stages of oral cancer. Earlier detection of oral cancer offers the best chance for long term survival and has the potential to improve treatment outcomes and make healthcare affordable. Thirdly, oral cancer affects those from the lower socioeconomic groups, that is, people from the lower socioeconomic strata of society due to a higher exposure to risk factors such as the use of tobacco. Lastly, even though clinical diagnosis occurs via examination of the oral cavity and tongue which is accessible by current diagnostic tools, the majority of cases present to a healthcare facility at later stages of cancer subtypes, thereby reducing chances of survival due to delays in diagnosis.
Public health officials, private hospitals, and academic medical centres within India have recognised oral cancer as a grave problem. Efforts to increase the body of literature on the knowledge of the disease aetiology and regional distribution of risk factors have begun gaining momentum. Oral cancer will remain a major health problem and efforts towards early detection, and prevention will reduce this burden. In light of this, the objective of this paper is to review and summarise existing literature on the descriptive epidemiology of oral cancer in India, focusing on the incidence of disease in the country.