THE boss of the world’s largest independent cancer charity, who has just been knighted, believes Asian communities are hampering their survival chances by avoiding talking about the deadly disease.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) – who was honoured with a knighthood for services to cancer research last week – told Eastern Eye the message about cancer was not getting through “as fast in Asian communities” as it has in the general population.
“One of the most important things is we must stop the taboo of cancer and get people talking about it. Asian communities still have a greater level of resistance to talk about cancer than others do and that’s a big deal.”
He added that many Asians don’t go for cancer and bowel cancer screenings because of cultural factors.
“Lots of women still won’t go for breast screening and men and women won’t do the bowel screening test when it comes through.
“These are critically important things that can be done to save lives. We need to raise awareness, we need to get people to realise that actually cancer doesn’t have to be a killer.”
According to Cancer Research statistics, survival from the disease is improving and has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK. However, lifestyle changes have also increased the incidences of cancer.
“We are making good progress – survival rates are higher than they have ever been. Now more people will survive cancer than die from it, which is the first time we have been able to say that but the number of people who get cancer is increasing all the time,” Kumar said.
“In the UK, one in two of us will get cancer now. The rates are growing faster in emerging economies like China and India.It’s partly because of growing westernisation of lifestyle. “In China, we see a high rate of smoking related cancer. In India, it’s more to do with obesity and diet.”
Kumar is one of hundreds of people in Britain who have been awarded by the Queen for their services to the country in the New Year honours list. From an early age, he spent time helping his parents, who were originally refugees in India after the partition, run their grocery store.
Two decades later he won a place at Cambridge University and Harvard. After training as a chemical engineer, the 50-year-old worked as a healthcare consultant with McKinsey in 1992 and went on to hold senior positions in the field.
The citation accompanying his knighthood said he “has been hugely influential in promoting research into the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and cancer care”.
Kumar said he was “very surprised and deeply honoured” on receiving a knighthood.
“It’s a privilege to lead Cancer Research UK. More than anything, this honour recognises the extraordinary innovation and dedication of our scientists and clinicians to beating cancer, the creativity and passion of our fundraisers and amazing volunteers with their commitment to maintaining the highest standards, and the tenacity and belief of our policy and information professionals in driving change at all levels and in providing outstanding support for cancer patients and their families,” he said.