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An overview of the burden of oral cancer in Sri Lanka and its inequalities in the face of contemporary economic and social malaise.

OBJECTIVES: Over the past several decades, oral cancer has been the most common malignancy among Sri Lankan males and the top 10 cancer among females, disproportionately affecting low socio-economic groups. Sri Lanka is a lower-middle-income developing country (LMIC), currently striking through an economic crisis, and social and political unrest. Occurring at an accessible body site and predominantly attributed to potentially modifiable health-related behaviours, oral cancer should be preventable and controllable. Unfortunately, broader contextual factors that are socio-cultural, environmental, economic, and political and mediated through social determinants of people's lives consistently hinder progress. Many LMICs with a high burden of oral cancer are now gripped by economic crises, consequent social and political unrest, all compounded by reduced public health investments. The aim of this review is to provide a critical commentary on key aspects of oral cancer epidemiology including inequalities, using Sri Lanka as a case study.

METHODS: The review synthesizes evidence from multiple data sources, such as published studies, web-based national cancer incidence data, national surveys on smokeless tobacco (ST) and areca nut use, smoking and alcohol consumption, poverty headcount ratios, economic growth, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) health expenditure. National trends in the oral cancer, ST use, smoking and alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka are identified alongside inequalities.

RESULTS: Using these evidence sources, we discuss 'where are we now?', together with the availability, accessibility and affordability of oral cancer treatment services, oral cancer prevention and control programmes, tobacco and alcohol control policies, and finally, outline macroeconomic perspectives of Sri Lanka.

CONCLUSIONS: Finally, we speculate, 'where to next?' Our overarching goal of this review is to initiate a critical discourse on bridging the gaps and crossing the divides to tackle oral cancer inequalities in LMIC such as Sri Lanka.

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