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Factors Leading To Delayed Cancer Diagnosis In Pakistan

Dr. Anam Zafar

3 min read

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Cancer is a serious and sometimes fatal condition that requires immediate medical attention and ongoing care. In our struggle against this debilitating condition, early diagnosis and timely intervention become incredibly important for improving patient outcomes. In Pakistan, there is still a long way to go to promote early diagnosis of cancer and create awareness in people regarding its warning signs so they can get timely treatment, which can help save precious lives. 

This article seeks to analyze the delays in cancer diagnosis in Pakistan and discover the factors that hamper early cancer detection.

The Current State Of Cancer in Pakistan

Cancer is a severe disease that is becoming quite prevalent in Pakistan. Breast cancer, stomach cancer, and lung cancer are the most common types of cancers in the country. According to Global Cancer Statistics 2020, the total reported cancer cases in Pakistan were alarmingly high at 178,388, with 117,149 deaths. To curb the cancer mortality rates, timely diagnosis of the disease has emerged as one of the most daunting challenges.

Factors Leading To Delayed Cancer Diagnosis In Pakistan

These factors include:

1. Lack of Awareness and Education

One of the primary reasons that adversely affects the early detection of cancer in Pakistan is illiteracy and lack of knowledge about this disease, its symptoms, and its stages. Affected individuals, especially those belonging to rural areas, lack adequate understanding of the danger signs linked to various types of cancer.  Hence, possible signs and symptoms are easily ignored or pushed aside and mistaken for other mild illnesses until it is too late.

Secondly, there are a lot of false beliefs regarding cancer. For instance, there is a common myth that cancer is always fatal, although this is not the case. Such false beliefs discourage individuals from taking proactive measures such as getting checkups or opting for treatments such as chemotherapy.  We have to make significant efforts to create public awareness regarding cancer to encourage people to get tested for cancer as soon as they experience any problematic symptoms instead of ignoring them.

2. Limited Access to Healthcare Facilities

Limited access to healthcare facilities in Pakistan is a major obstacle to bringing the needed standards, which in turn will allow adequate access to cancer care, with special emphasis on the rural areas of the country. The absence of advanced cancer diagnostic facilities and proper oncological units in different regions suggests that it takes too long for people to get a cancer screening and diagnosis. This barrier places people in a perplexing situation where they cannot go to the hospital early enough or may have trouble getting a timely diagnosis.

3. High Costs Of Cancer Diagnosis

The high costs of diagnostic tests and expensive cancer treatments further deter Pakistanis from getting early diagnosis and required treatments on time. Significant efforts have to be made to improve our healthcare infrastructure and introduce affordable diagnostic services and cancer treatments to make it possible for people to take charge of their health.

4. Cultural and Social Barriers

Another factor that can delay early diagnosis of cancer is associated with cultural and social barriers. In Pakistan, there is a stigma surrounding cancer, which prevents people from seeking the required medical help on time. Women in backward areas have to face additional challenges as they are often subdued and bound to their homes, unable to get the treatment they need. 

Additionally, some people opt for alternative treatment options and home remedies to get rid of cancer. These treatments rarely do any good for the patient and only serve to delay further proper treatment, which can cause the cancer to progress to irreversible stages, becoming near impossible to treat.

5. Inadequate Healthcare System and Facilities

Healthcare centers in Pakistan lack the proper equipment or staff to accurately identify early signs of cancer or perform basic cancer screening.  The outdated systems and facilities put cancer patients at several forms of risk, such as failure to diagnose the suspected condition, lack of timely referral to specialized care, or even a wrong diagnosis.

6. Long Waiting Times and Diagnostic Delays

When people do decide to get treatment for cancer, they face further problems. They may have to wait several hours to be diagnosed through tests, whereas others spend many hours waiting to see a specialist. These delays can be due to the lack of oncologists and diagnostic equipment in many healthcare centers across Pakistan. To solve this problem, we must aim to increase the capacity of oncology departments to incorporate more qualified staff and facilities to decrease waiting times and aid timely diagnosis of cancer.

7. Lack of Specialized Cancer Institutes

Another one of the barriers that can lead to delayed diagnosis of cancer in Pakistan is the lack of specialized cancer institutes. Though a few initiatives such as the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, offer state-of-the-art healthcare services to cancer patients, the country still requires many more such specialized hospitals. Apart from Shaukat Khanum, there are not many cancer facilities in Pakistan that offer specialized services, and therefore, the majority of the population cannot access quality cancer treatment services.

This shortage not only exacerbates the problem of delays in diagnosis but also reduces the quality and speed of care patients receive. The absence of specialized centers also applies to cancer research and clinical trials, which support the training of oncological specialists and research and development of new cancer treatments.


When it comes to cancer diagnosis in Pakistan, we have to make significant strides due to several issues, as discussed above. There is a need for better facilities and more healthcare professionals dedicated to cancer diagnosis and treatment. We also have to strive towards creating a cancer-aware country where people understand the early warning signs of common types of cancers and face no hurdles in accessing cancer care facilities no matter where they are. Moreover, affordable diagnostic services can further encourage people to take timely action against this severe disease, which can ultimately help save lives.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Anam Zafar
Dr. Anam Zafar - Author Dr. Anam Zafar is a General Physician with 6 years of experience. You can book an in-person appointment or an online video consultation with Dr. Anam Zafar through oladoc.com or by calling at 0518151800.

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