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Joint action needed to promote prevention, improve cancer care

Washington, D.C., February 3, 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — Cancer cases are projected to increase by more than two-thirds worldwide over the next 20 years—from 12.7 million in 2008 to 21.4 million by 2030. However, an estimated 30–40 percent of these cases could be prevented, say experts at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the Union for International Cancer Control.



Nearly two-thirds of the projected cases will occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to WHO. That means that prevention is important for people living in wealthy and poorer countries alike, and all countries need to invest now in better health care to cope with the growing burden of cancer patients.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress in cancer care and cancer survival in higher-income countries over recent decades,” said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. “But in lower-income countries, the cancer battle is still in its early stages. We need to step up the fight now, before cancer and other chronic diseases overwhelm our health systems.”

On Feb. 4, World Cancer Day, PAHO/WHO and the Union for International Cancer Control are teaming up under the slogan “together it is possible” to raise awareness of the growing burden of cancer and to spur action toward more prevention and better treatment of the disease.

“If every person, organization and government does its part, we can reduce premature deaths from cancer as well as other noncommunicable diseases by 25 percent before the year 2020,” said Dr. James Hospedales, PAHO senior advisor on chronic diseases. “This would be an enormous impact, and it’s possible to achieve.”

In the countries of the Americas, cancer is currently the second-leading cause of death (after cardiovascular disease), claiming over 1.1 million lives each year. Leading cancers in the region are lung, prostate and colorectal cancers for men, and breast and cervical cancer for women.

Cancer is a growing problem in the Americas and worldwide for several reasons, chief among them aging populations and changing lifestyles that increase the prevalence of risk factors.

The top risk factors for cancer are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Alcohol use
  • Sexually transmitted HPV (human papilloma virus) infection

In addition to the 30–40 percent of cancers that can be prevented by reducing these and other risk factors, another 30 percent of cases can be cured or put into remission through screening and early detection followed with effective treatments.

“Investments in both prevention and better treatment are essential if countries are to successfully meet the growing cancer challenge,” said Hospedales.

An example is cervical cancer, caused by HPV and which claims the lives of some 25,000 women each year in the Americas. Cervical cancer has a disproportionate impact on poorer countries and population groups, with death rates seven times higher in South and Central America than in North America. Yet it is highly preventable through proven cost-effective interventions including HPV vaccines as well as screening and treatment for early and invasive cancer. The World Cancer Day 2012 campaign calls for joint efforts between governments, nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations to promote action and investments in areas including tobacco control, promotion of healthy lifestyles, cancer screening and early detection, and improved cancer treatment services, as well as palliative care when cure is not possible.

Last September, the United Nations hosted a special High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), which has helped boost awareness of and action on cancer throughout the Americas. PAHO has created the Pan American Forum for Action on Non-communicable Diseases as a partnership platform to unite various sectors of society to work together in the fight against cancer and other NCDs.

PAHO was established in 1902 and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).




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Last Updated on Friday, 03 February 2012 09:50

The majority of most frequent cancers worldwide can be prevented (01/30/2015)

In marking this year’s World Cancer Day, PAHO/WHO is promoting the theme that "preventing and controlling cancer is not beyond us’’.  This message of optimism focuses on the fact that there are cost-effective interventions, feasible for all resource settings, that can reduce cancer deaths.A recent scientific report on the causes of cancer,  published in the journal Science on 2 January, 2015 by Dr Cristian Tomasetti and Dr Bert Vogelstein, suggests that random mutations, or "bad luck" are major contributors to cancer. Yet, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization´s specialized cancer agency has shown strong disagreement with the conclusion of this report.

IARC experts note the serious contradiction in this report with the extensive body of epidemiological evidence on the causes of cancer, as well as a number of methodological limitations and biases in the analysis presented in the report. Population risk factors are well known for many common cancers, and can be modified through healthy public policies that support healthy lifestyles.

Furthermore, international epidemiological research has shown that most cancer that are frequent in one population are relatively rare in another and that these patterns vary over time. These observations are characteristic of many common cancers and are consistent with a major contribution of environmental and lifestyle exposures, as opposed to genetic variation or chance (“bad luck”).Finally, the IARC calls to continue the search for causes of cancer as well as investing in prevention measures for those cancers whose risk factors are known.

Read the IARC press release


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PAHO Observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month (10/20/2014)

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World Cancer Day, 4 February 2013 (02/02/2013)


Cervical Cancer Experts gather to develop new guidelines (11/06/2012)

Partnerships are Critical for an Effective Cancer Prevention and Control, Dr. Andrus Says (08/28/2012)

World Cancer Day: "Together it is possible" (02/03/2012)

Two-thirds of future cancer cases will be in developing countries (02/01/2012)


Physical activity can help reduce risk of some cancers (02/03/2011)


Countries Pledge New Action to Reduce Cervical Cancer Deaths (10/03/2008)

Better Screening, Treatment, and Affordable Vaccines Can Prevent Doubling of Cervical Cancer Deaths (05/29/2008)

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