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World Cancer Day: Global action to avert 8 million cancer-related deaths by 2015

Cancer is a leading cause of death globally: an estimated 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2005 and 84 million people will die in the next 10 years if action is not taken. The World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed a global goal of reducing chronic disease death rates by 2% per annum from 2006 to 2015. Achievement of this goal would avert over 8 million of the projected 84 million deaths due to cancer in the next decade. WHO is stepping up its response to meet this target.

More than 70% of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where resources available for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are limited or nonexistent. Tobacco use alone accounts for some 1.5 million cancer deaths per year.

WHO is actively responding to these rising levels of cancer. A World Health Assembly resolution adopted in May 2005 called on WHO and its Member States to take urgent action to prevent and control cancer. As a result, WHO has been developing a Global Cancer Strategy and the coming year will see the publication of "Cancer Control: Knowledge into Action - WHO Guide for Effective Programmes", a series of six modules aimed at supporting Member States to develop strategies to improve prevention, treatment and care of cancer patients.

"We must, first and foremost, address the tremendous inequalities between developed and developing countries in terms of cancer prevention, treatment and care," said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, "Despite our knowledge that many cases are avoidable, or curable when detected early and treated according to best evidence, sadly for many people tumours are detected too late and adequate treatment is not available. Furthermore, the quality of life of many patients with cancer can be improved substantially by pain control and palliative care."

It is estimated that over 40% of all cancer can be prevented. However, dramatic increases in risk factors such as tobacco use and obesity are contributing to the rise in cancer rates, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. A rapidly changing global environment due to globalization of markets and urbanization is leading to rising consumption of processed foods high in fats, sugars and salt, as well as tobacco products; declining consumption of fruit and vegetables; and more sedentary activity levels. As a consequence the burden (incidence) of cancer and other chronic diseases is increasing. Other preventable risk factors include many environmental carcinogens and infections caused by Hepatitis B Virus and Human Papilloma Virus.

WHO is taking significant measures to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. A key achievement has been the entry into force this past year of the first-ever WHO global health treaty. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), is a major step towards the goal of reducing tobacco use, which is the leading preventable cause of cancer. To date, 121 countries have ratified the treaty. The first Convention of the Parties of the Treaty meets in Geneva from February 6-17, 2006 to plan implementation of the treaty's measures aimed at curbing tobacco consumption.

Additionally, the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health has provided a multi-sectoral approach to reducing key risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases. The Programme on Chemical Safety is a worldwide WHO-guided network aimed at reducing exposure to carcinogens, and immunization programmes against hepatitis are part of WHO global immunization strategies.

To improve early detection, treatment and care of cancer patients, WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is providing the scientific evidence for cancer causes and mechanisms of cancer development as well as developing strategies for early detection of cancer. Moreover, WHO acts in partnership with a range of major stakeholders in cancer control, including other UN organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), NGOs such as the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and many national cancer institutes.

WHO advocates an integrated approach to prevention, treatment and care for all leading chronic diseases. Integrated approaches that combine cancer prevention, diagnosis, management with that for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases are necessary because the diseases share common risk factors (tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) and require similar responses from the health system. Not only is the integrated approach best for prevention and treatment, it is also cost-effective. This approach is outlined in the recently released report, "Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment".

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