Experts say the number of people developing cancer in the developing world is soaring. But many places lack the means to treat them. So, the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency has launched a campaign to fund the purchase of radiation therapy equipment to give to developing countries.
By 2015, the IAEA's health unit projects, the number of people diagnosed with cancer worldwide will double to 10 million new cases a year.
Considered largely a disease of old age, experts say there has been a huge jump in cancer cases for several reasons. People are living longer as a result of effective treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. Fewer women are dying in childbirth. Western dietary influences, including high-fat foods, and widespread cigarette smoking also are blamed for higher cancer rates in the developing world.
But experts note that there are very few facilities to treat cancer patients.
Bhadrasain Vikram, a radiation oncologist in the International Atomic Agency's Division of Human Health, emphasizes that educating the public about the hazards of cigarette smoking and urging them to adopt a healthy diet only goes so far.
"The reality is that that's not going to eliminate the problem," said Dr. Vikram. "And, there's still going to be many, many significant numbers of breast cancer that we don't have a good handle on what causes the cancer. And breast cancer is one of the cancer's that is dramatically increasing in developing countries."
Radiotherapy is used primarily to treat solid tumors, including breast cancer, skin cancer and cancers of the mouth, brain, and prostate.
International public health officials say they need $2.5 billion over the next 10 years to adequately equip developing world countries with radiation therapy equipment.
"It sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of, you know, a lot of other things that happen in the world, it probably is not a lot of money, because of the number of people it is going to impact," said Dr. Vikram.
He explains that United Nations wants developing countries to pick up part of the tab, as a way to sustain their commitment to cancer treatment, after the United Nations and Western countries end their economic support.