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16 Million New Cancer Cases Expected by 2020 Worldwide

Cancer will kill more people in the world this year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Details about this epidemic are described in The Cancer Atlas which was released, along with its companion book, The Tobacco Atlas, at the International Union Against Cancer's World Congress, held [July 10-14] in Washington.

The twin atlases are comprehensive guides stuffed with statistics, maps and graphics that illustrate the global problem of cancer and tobacco use. Lead author Judith Mackay says the numbers tell an alarming story of cancer's threat. "We are looking at about 1 billion [cancer] deaths this century if present trends continue. We have 1.3 billion smokers today. By 2030 that 1.3 will be 1.64 billion and that is principally because of population expansion. The prevalence may come down a bit, but the numbers will actually increase."

Currently one billion men and 250 million women smoke cigarettes. According to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco is the only consumer product that kills more than half of its regular users. American Cancer Society President John Seffrin says smoking-related cancers can be largely avoided. "Literally one-third of all human cancer could be prevented if we could just solve the tobacco problem, if we could solve the tobacco addiction problem." He says other kinds of cancers can also be avoided. "If people get more exercise and eat properly, avoid tobacco, don't have excess exposure to sun, we can prevent most lethal cancers during a normal human lifespan."

The global burden of cancer is shifting from developed to developing countries. By 2030, The Tobacco Atlas reports, 85 percent of all smokers will live in the developing world. Judith Mackay says the trend threatens to further impoverish poor countries. "The Third World is singularly unable and unprepared to cope with that both in financial terms -- the cost to the government, the cost to the smoker -- as well as in health terms for the smoker and indeed their family." McKay says families are spending less money on food, on clothing, and on education, because they are spending money to buy cigarettes. "So it has a huge impact on poverty worldwide."

But many nations are taking a stand against tobacco; 131 countries have ratified the United Nations Treaty on Tobacco Control, a public health agreement that would ban tobacco promotion, require health warnings on cigarette packets and offer smoke-free public places. The United States has signed but not yet ratified the Treaty. But Mackay says that even with the treaty's principles widely in force, many nations still pursue policies based on what she calls faulty economic thinking. "Many governments think that if they put up a tax, or a health warning on [a pack of cigarettes] or whatever they do, their revenue will drop and people will be out of work," she says. "What we need in the world today in developing countries [are] health economists to show the government that yes, this amount of money is coming in, but this huge amount of money is going out. And ministers of finance often look at the tax revenue, but don't look at the enormous costs of medical and health costs, social costs, costs to the environment."

This is the first edition of The Cancer Atlas and the second of The Tobacco Atlas. Mackay hopes these reference books help to raise awareness among both policy makers and laymen about cancer and the steps needed to reduce its deadly impact.