Media centre

About two out of five cancers can be prevented

4 February 2010 -- As we mark World Cancer Day, this episode focuses on cancer prevention. Each year, over 12 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer kills more people than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined but the good news is that approximately two out of five cancers are potentially preventable.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. As we mark World Cancer Day on the 4th February, this episode focuses on cancer prevention.

Each year, over 12 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer kills more people than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined and the death toll is set to rise dramatically in the coming decades. Two-thirds of cancer-related deaths occur in countries where resources available for cancer control and services are limited or nonexistent. But, the good news is that approximately two out of five cancers are potentially preventable. The World Cancer Declaration has set out targets to stop and reverse current trends. Mr Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the International Union against Cancer explains.

Mr Cary Adams: One of those targets - target 3 - is about prevention, the things that we can all do, which will limit the chances of us getting cancer in due course. For example, stop tobacco use, limit alcohol consumption, avoid excessive sun exposure, maintain a healthy weight and of course protect against cancer causing infections.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Chris Wild, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer tells us why prevention is critical, especially in regions of the world which have the least capacity to treat this disease as they have the least developed clinical services.

Dr Chris Wild: In the example of Africa where we currently have 500 000 new cases of cancer each year, we have fairly precise estimates that in the next 30-40 years there will be three to four times as many cancers in that part of the world. It is very difficult to envisage treatment being able to respond to that challenge, whereas prevention would be a much better approach to reduce the burden of disease.

Veronica Riemer: One fifth of all cancers worldwide are caused by a chronic infection. Some examples are human papilloma virus (also known as HPV) which causes cancer of the cervix, hepatitis B virus (HBV) which causes liver cancer and Helicobacter pylori causing stomach cancers. Professor Harald zur Hausen a German virologist researching cancer of the cervix, discovered the role of papilloma viruses, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 2008.

Professor Harald zur Hausen: HPV is clearly a causative agent of cancer of the cervix and in addition, there is good reason to suspect that it also causes parts of all pharyngeal cancer of the throat and in particular of the tonsils and it is also involved in other cancers in particular in anal cancer.

Veronica Riemer: Cancer is one of several noncommunicable diseases which affects millions of people and causes life-long illness. WHO and its partners have developed an action plan to prevent these diseases from occurring and to help those already affected to cope. Dr Ala Alwan, is WHO's Assistant Director-General of the noncommunicable diseases and mental health department:

Dr Ala Alwan: The global strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases has three key priorities. One is to map and monitor noncommunicable diseases which are, in addition to cancer: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic lung disease. Two is to reduce the exposure to the risk factors and these are tobacco, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol. Thirdly is to strengthen health care services for people with cancer and other noncommunicable diseases.

The action plan is being implemented by all countries and so achievements in the prevention and control of cancer and noncommunicable diseases will have a major positive impact.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like further information about World Cancer Day or the WHO Action plan, please see the links on the transcript page of this podcast. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

Related links

Share