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Oration of the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka

Oesophageal Carcinoma: a neglected volcano in Sri Lanka


Ishanka Ayeshwari Talagala

Ministry of Health, LK
About Ishanka Ayeshwari
Ishanka A. Talagala MBBS, MSc. MD (Community Medicine) is a specialist in Community Medicine currently serving at the DDG- NCD Bureau, Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Sri Lanka, where she is involved in research, planning and implementation of various national wide programmes for prevention of NCDs in the country. One such national survey is the Service Availability and Readiness Assessment survey, Sri Lanka- 2017. She is currently involved in the STEPS survey, Sri Lanka- 2018 as well. Ishanka also has contributed to the National Health Strategic Master Plan 2016-2025 of the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka. Her research interest lies in NCD and nutrition and has published several related research articles in international peer reviewed journals. Being a young public health specialist and a researcher, she currently is undertaking several researches related to NCD and nutrition. She has several award winning oral and poster presentations in several renowned national and international scientific conferences. Ishanka also has been rewarded with the Health Excellence Award in 2010 by the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka for her enormous services rendered during the Humanitarian Mission following the civil war in Sri Lanka. She also has taught and supervised several undergraduate and post graduate student researches at the Faculties of Medicine, University of Colombo and University of Kelaniya.
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Background: Risk factors of Oesophageal Carcinoma (OC) specific to Sri Lanka are important for implementing primary prevention. Owing to late symptoms and absence of routine endoscopic screening, delayed presentation leads to severe outcomes. Thus, developing a simple low-cost risk prediction tool to identify high-risk individuals based on population-specific risk will enable early diagnosis and treatment as secondary prevention. Though quality of life (QOL) is important in tertiary prevention of OC, its status following the initial treatment has not been assessed lately in Sri Lanka. Objectives: To identify the risk factors of OC specific for adults in the Western province, to develop and validate a risk prediction model to identify high-risk individuals, and to assess the QOL of patients at diagnosis and one month after completing the initial treatment. Methodology: Component one: A case-control study was conducted among 49 incident cases of OC recruited from the National Cancer Institute, Maharagama using a non-probability sampling method, and unmatched hospital controls (n=196) excluded of oesophageal carcinoma recruited from the endoscopy unit at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka using an incidence density sampling method. Data were collected using an interviewer administered questionnaire at the patients’ residence. Component two: A risk prediction tool to identify high-risk individuals was developed based on weighted scores derived from their risk factor profile and expert opinion. An independent case-control study was conducted among 30 cases and 138 unmatched controls recruited in the same manner as in component one for assessing its criterion validity against histological diagnosis of OC. Data were collected through an interviewer administered questionnaire. Component three: A cohort of 51 incident cases was followed up to assess their QOL at diagnosis and one month after completion of their initial treatment. Data were collected at the patients’ residence using previously validated EORTC QLQ –C30 and EORTC –OES 18 questionnaires. Results: Bivariate analysis followed by logistic regression analysis identified the following risk factors of OC adjusted for confounding effect: age >65 years (OR: 4.0; 95% CI: 1.1-14.2), family history of cancer (5.0; 1.3-19), sub-optimal consumption of fiber (3.6; 1.1-12.3), antioxidants (7.0; 2.2-22.5), deep fried food (6.7; 2.0-22.6), ‘low’ total lifetime sports and exercise activities (5.8, 1.5-23), ‘high risk’ alcohol consumption (11.7; 2.8-49.4), ever betel quid chewing (6.1; 1.9-20), ever exposure to agrochemicals (6.6; 1.4-30.3), consumption of pipe-borne water (5.6; 1.7-18.9) and ever exposure to radiation (4.6; 1.4-15.5). Risk predictors in the newly developed risk prediction tool were all the significant risk factors in the logistic regression plus ever tobacco smoking. The tool demonstrated valid predictions (96.7% sensitivity; 84.1% specificity; AUC=0.97; 95% CI: 0.94-0.99) to identify high-risk individuals for OC at 34.5 cut-off. On a scale of 0-100, the overall health status/QOL (mean score=49.8; SD=22), and role (42.2; SD=34), physical (53.1; SD=29), emotional (53.4; SD=26) and social functioning (57.2; SD=23) were relatively low at diagnosis, which further deteriorated (difference >5 points) following the initial treatment (p<0.05). Dysphagia (mean=54; SD=27) was the main symptom at diagnosis, which improved significantly (p<0.05) in contrast to dry mouth (mean=39.2; SD=34) that worsened (p<0.05) following initial treatment. Family support and financial difficulties were adversely affected (p<0.05) during the initial treatment. Conclusions and Recommendations: Risk factors specific for OC were mainly lifestyle related including a few explained by environmental factors. To minimize delayed diagnosis, the risk prediction model should be implemented to identify and prioritize high-risk individuals for endoscopy screening. The deterioration of several dimensions of QOL of patients following the initial treatment highlights the need for preserving and improving it in OC management.
How to Cite: Talagala, I.A., 2018. Oesophageal Carcinoma: a neglected volcano in Sri Lanka. Journal of the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka, 24(4), pp.134–140. DOI:
Published on 31 Dec 2018.
Peer Reviewed


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