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WHO Says COVID-19 Hurting Efforts to Control Cancer

Palestinian cancer patient Tala Al-Mabhouh, 11, who had a bone marrow transplant, shows a part of her hair which she lost due to chemotherapy, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 2, 2021.

In a report marking World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization says COVID-19 is having a negative impact on cancer control efforts at a time when cases and deaths from this deadly disease are rising significantly.

New statistics show the number of people diagnosed with cancer globally last year reached 19.3 million, with the number of people dying increasing to 10 million. The World Health Organization reports cancer now is the second leading cause of death, with 70 percent of deaths occurring in low-and-middle income countries.

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Breast cancer

WHO reports breast cancer has replaced lung cancer as the world’s most commonly occurring cancer. It warns the number of new cancer cases are expected to grow significantly reaching 30 million new cases by 2040.

Andre Ilbawi of WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases says the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer control efforts have been profound.

“WHO surveys have found that 50 percent of governments have had cancer services partially or completely disrupted because of the pandemic," said Ilbawi. "We have also gathered data from the scientific community to understand the severity and the impact on cancer patients. Delays in diagnosis are common. Interruptions in therapy and/or abandonment have increased significantly.”

Ilbawi notes people suffering from noncommunicable diseases, including cancer, are at higher risk of severe COVID-19-related illness and death.

WHO reports many cancers can be cured if they are diagnosed early and treated appropriately. It says significant advances have been made in these areas. For example, it notes cervical cancer kills some four-point-five million people yearly. These deaths, it says, can be eliminated if girls are fully vaccinated against the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus with the HPV vaccine by age 15.

Health officials say individuals can do much to reduce the risk of getting cancer. A number of preventative measures have to do with lifestyle choices. Since tobacco use accounts for about 22 percent of cancer deaths, WHO says people should stop smoking.

It recommends regular exercise, healthy diets and the avoidance of the harmful use of alcohol. It says reducing exposure to strong sunlight for prolonged periods will protect people from the harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer.