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Cancer Need Not Be a Death Sentence: WHO

In this March 4, 2019 photo, Dr. Allison Magnuson, left, speaks with patient Nancy Simpson at the Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester, N.Y.

The World Health Organization reports cancer is on the increase globally. But it says preventive measures can save the lives of millions of cancer sufferers over the next decade. This report comes in regard to World Cancer Day on Feb. 4.

Over the past decade, nearly every country in the world has seen an increase in the number of cancer patients. The World Health Organization reports one in six people will develop cancer in their lifetime, causing at least 10 million deaths from this disease every year.

If current trends continue, WHO warns, new cancer cases will rise by 60% by 2040, more than 80% in low- and middle-income countries.

The technical officer in cancer control at WHO, Andre Ilbawi, says more people are dying from cancer in the poorer countries because they lack the services and cancer control measures that exist in the richer countries. He says controlling the disease does not have to be expensive.

“Our report presents the first investment case from WHO for cancer services that governments by investing in cancer can save 7 million lives by 2030. And that is at the cost of $2.70 per person in low-income countries and $8.15 cents per person in upper middle-income countries. This is feasible,” Ilbawi said.

Intravenous bags hang above young cancer patients at Rady's Children Hospital in San Diego, California, Sept. 4, 2019.
Intravenous bags hang above young cancer patients at Rady's Children Hospital in San Diego, California, Sept. 4, 2019.

WHO says cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Prevention works. The director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Elisabete Weiderpass, says there have been tremendous advances in research on cancer prevention and treatment. And these are successfully keeping many people alive who otherwise would have died.

“Preventive policies such as the elimination of occupational exposures to carcinogens, tobacco control measures, vaccination against cancer-causing infectious agents, and screening for early stages of cancer are potentially powerful ways to reduce not only the average incidence and mortality for cancer, but also socioeconomical inequality in cancer occurrence,” Weiderpass said

In its report, WHO highlights a wide range of measures proven to be effective in preventing new cancer cases. For example, it notes tobacco-related diseases account for 25% of cancer deaths. Quitting this deadly habit, it says, can save billions of dollars and millions of lives.

WHO says a vaccine against hepatitis B can prevent liver cancer. It notes another vaccine against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection, can virtually eliminate cervical cancer.