Nearly half of cancer deaths in the Americas are premature, yet many could be prevented by public policies that support healthy lifestyles and early detection and treatment

Washington, D.C., 2 February 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — In the lead-up to World Cancer Day, Feb. 4, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging wider implementation of measures to prevent people from developing cancer and to reduce the number who die prematurely from the disease.

Poster World Cancer Day 2015PAHO/WHO is supporting the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in its 2015 World Cancer Day campaign, whose slogan is "Not Beyond Us." The campaign highlights the need to implement policies and actions to achieve a 25% reduction in premature deaths from cancer and other noncommunicable diseases by 2025, a goal endorsed by countries from the Americas and around the world in 2013.

In the Americas, nearly 3 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, and 1.3 million die. Nearly half of these cancer deaths are premature, that is, in people under age 70. If no action is taken, new cases of cancer are projected to increase 30% over the next decade.

"We can all take action to ensure that fewer people develop cancer and more get early diagnosis and treatment, and to ensure that those who are under treatment have better quality of life and survive," said Anselm Hennis, Director of PAHO/WHO's Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

An estimated one-third or more of the most common types of cancer could be prevented through healthier lifestyle practices: stopping or never starting to smoke, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing alcohol consumption, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

However, healthy lifestyles are not just a matter of individual choice; they require policies and environments that make healthy choices the easy choices to make.

"We must have policies, laws and programs that reduce exposure to risk factors—smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol, and obesity—and that facilitate behavior change and healthier lifestyles," said Hennis.

Another important cancer prevention measure is vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccinating girls 9-13 years would prevent an estimated 83,000 new cases of cervical cancer occur each year in the Americas.

Avoiding exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and ionizing radiation and sunlight are also important to protect against cancer.

Most types of cancer are less lethal and more treatable if detected in their early stages. Expanding access to methods for early detection and screening of cancers including breast, cervical and colorectal cancer would promote earlier and more effective treatment. Screening and treatment for cervical cancer, for example, has been shown to reduce cervical cancer deaths by 80% or more in women who are screened.

Greater access to efficient, affordable and quality cancer care, including medications, is critical to curing more cancers, improving patients' quality of life, and reducing mortality. Accessible and affordable health services are also critical for the thousands of people who survive cancer but require attention and care throughout their lives.

Seminar on screening and early detection of breast cancer

To mark World Cancer Day, PAHO/WHO and the Global Breast Cancer Alliance hosted a seminar on Feb. 3 on screening and early detection of breast cancer—the leading women's cancer in the Americas. The seminar featured experts from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Harvard University, the Breast Cancer Initiative of the Bahamas, and the Brazilian NGO FEMAMA. To listen to the seminar (and view presentations) visit this link.

PAHO/WHO is working with its member countries in the Americas to strengthen policies to prevent cancer, including laws and regulations to reduce tobacco consumption and the harmful use of alcohol. PAHO/WHO is also working to improve quality of and access to cancer screening programs, with a special focus on promoting early detection of breast and cervical cancers and improved quality of and access to cancer treatment and palliative care.