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Many Cancers Preventable, Says WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) says millions of lives could be saved each year through preventive measures and early screening and detection of cancer.

The World Health Organization says cancer and other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are growing at frightening speed. Worldwide, WHO estimates there are more than 10 million new cases of cancer and more than six million deaths from cancer every year.

The director of WHO's noncommunicable diseases program, Rafael Bengoa, says a lot is now known about how to prevent and cure many of these cancers. "On people who actually have cancer, the capacity to act on one third of them has grown tremendously," he said. "So compared to 10 years ago, one third of all cancers can now be successfully treated. Others, one third of them, can also be prevented."

Dr. Bengoa says many advances also have been made in greatly relieving the pain and suffering endured by terminally ill patients through effective care.

The World Health Organization blames many of the new cancers on problems of lifestyle such as bad diet and tobacco. It calls tobacco the single largest preventable cause of cancer. It estimates smoking causes about 30 percent of all cancer deaths in developed countries and the numbers are rising in developing countries, particularly among women.

Dr. Bengoa says many of the Western lifestyles responsible for the increase in cancer are being adopted by developing countries. "Basically, we are restarting what we heard in developed countries 20 or 25 years ago, but it is now coming down in the developing countries," said Dr. Bengoa. "I think the main thing that has to be done at least at the policy level, country level - more than at the patient level - is to ensure that some of these risk factors in less developed countries are put under control and regulated like they have been or are being in more developed settings."

WHO says lung and stomach cancers are the most common cancers among men worldwide, while prostate cancer is largely seen in more developed countries. It says the most common cancers for women worldwide are breast and cervical cancer, although cervical cancer is primarily seen in less developed countries.