Unarguably, cancer is no doubt a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 7.6 million deaths every year, which is about 13 per cent of all deaths, out of which, 4 million people, die prematurely, within the ages of 30-69 years and sadly, 70 per cent of the deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries.
Cancer, it is also said to account for more deaths globally than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Deaths from cancer related diseases worldwide are projected to continue to move up, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030.
Surprisingly, while most people are aware of the danger of cancer, not many understand the phenomenon. It is against this backdrop that the major focal point of this yearly global event to mark the World Cancer Day continues to change in order to reflect and conscientise the citizenry on the inherent danger cancer poses to the global population.
It would be recalled that last year theme centred on Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration: Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, with the theme or tagline”Cancer-Did You Know? With the theme, individuals and communities are encouraged to shed light on the four key cancer “myths” and corresponding “truth” and it is hoped that dispelling these myths and misconceptions about cancer will help in achieving the needed effort of the global society toward supporting cancer prevention and control worldwide.
However, the fundamental truth is that cancer is not just a health issue, it has a wide reaching social, economic, development and human rights implications. The impact of cancer on the individuals, communities and populations threatens the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGS, last year, as cancer is both a cause and an outcome of poverty.
It also has negative impacts in a family’s ability to earn an income and even the high cost of treatment often pushes the family further into poverty. Therefore, poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare increases a person’s risk of getting cancer and dying from the disease. Nonetheless, most premature deaths from cancer are preventable if policy changes in and beyond the health sectors are made, such as in education, finance, development, transport, agriculture etc, as this will help to promote income and reduce poverty in the society.
Other myth about cancer includes being a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries/economies, is that cancer is a death sentence and as a lifestyle. But this is not true. Cancer is a global epidemic, affecting all ages and socio-economic groups, with the developing countries/economies bearing a disproportionate burden. It will be recalled that no fewer than 70 per cent of all cancer deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries and by 2030, between 60-70 per cent of the estimated 21.4 million new cases of cancer per year are predicted to occur in developing countries.
Aside this fact, many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured and for many more people their cancer can now be treated effectively. Early stage cancers, for instance, are less lethal and more treatable than late stage cancers and now, there are costs effective strategies for cancer control such as breast and cervical cancer, screening as well as early detection of cancer exist for all income levels and can be tailored to the population based need.
However, we believe that with the right strategies, at least 30 per cent of cancer cases can be prevented based on current knowledge. Prevention, though is the most cost-effective and sustainable way of reducing the global cancer burden in the long term. Therefore, global, regional and national policies and programmes that promote healthy lifestyles can substantially reduce cancers that are caused by risk factors such as alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.
Hence, with improved diet, physical activity and maintaining a healthy bodyweight can invariably prevent about a third of the most common cancer globally. Therefore, the introduction of safe, effective and affordable vaccines, if properly implemented as part of a national cancer control plans can go a long way in reducing the cancer burden worldwide. Our Government can even provide an effective national cancer control plan that has the propensity to respond to the cancer burden and cancer risk factor prevalence in the society.
This, we believe must include appropriate policies and programmes that reduces the level of exposure to risk factors for cancer and strengthen the capacity of the individuals to adopt a healthy lifestyle choices. Such policies and programmes, we believe should be underlined by a philosophy that views access to effective, quality and affordable cancer services as a right of all individuals.
But the encouraging news is the announcement both by the Union for International cancer control, UICC, and the International Agency for Research on cancer, IARC, that about 1.5 million lives which would be lost to cancer, could be saved per year if decisive measures are taken to achieve the World Health Organisation’s,WHO,’25 by 25’ target, that is 25 per cent by 2025 to reduce premature deaths due to non-communicable diseases and the projected increase to an alarming 6 million premature cancer deaths per year can be averted if urgent steps are taken to raise awareness and develop practical strategies to address the disease.
However, the estimated 1.5 million lives lost per year to cancer that could be prevented must therefore serve to galvanise our collective efforts in implementing the WHO’s ’25 by 25’ target. We therefore, urge for a renewed global commitment to help drive advancements in policy and encourage the implementation of a comprehensive national cancer control plans. And if we are to succeed in this at all, we all have a collective responsibility to support low-and middle-income countries who are tackling a cancer epidemic with insufficient resources. Without adequate intervention, the global cancer burden is projected to increase by 75 per cent in the next 20 years and many of the deaths maybe avoided with increased support and funding for the prevention, detection and treatment programmes for cancer.
Above all, education remains a crucial determinant in the cancer campaign and this must include information on risk factors, signs and symptoms. In the past, the lack of appropriate information and awareness about cancer was a crucial obstacle to effective cancer control and care, especially, for the detection of cancers at earlier and more treatable stages. We therefore call on those with appropriate information in the civil society, academia, private sector, and people living with and affected by cancer and others, to help in supporting the development and diffusion of cancer prevention and control programmes.
Hopefully, as the World celebrates this year’s cancer day, with the theme ‘We can. I can. ‘is aimed at exploring how everyone as a collective or as individuals can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer. Since cancer affects everyone in different ways, all people have the power to take various actions to reduce the impact that it has on individuals, families and communities. Therefore, the World cancer day is another opportunity to reflect on what you as an individual can do, by making a pledge and by taking action. Invariably, whatever anybody chooses to do ‘We can. I can ’make that desired difference in the fight against cancer.
It is therefore our believe that initiatives such as the World Cancer Day will help in achieving the targets outlined in the World Cancer Declaration, which are to place cancer on the political agenda, as well as improve cancer prevention and early detection, and enhance access to and treatment for cancer patients worldwide.