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Treatment alone will not tackle cancer epidemic, says WHO

Burden will be highest in developing countries

Greater emphasis on prevention and low-tech interventions are needed to cope with rising rates of cancer around with world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The health agency released its latest report on cancer yesterday - on World Cancer Day - and predicted that new cases of cancer will rise from around 12 million in 2012 to 22 million a year within the next two decades, although half of these could be avoided.

Over the same period cancer deaths will escalate from 8 million - roughly the same level as in 2005 - to 13 million a year, with people in the developing world - where access to early diagnosis and expensive new treatments is limited - bearing the brunt of the increase.

More than 60 per cent of the world's cancer cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70 per cent of the world's cancer deaths, according to the report from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The alarming finding of the new report compared to the last edition in 2008 is an apparent acceleration in new cancer cases among citizens of low- and middle-income countries, and improving treatment is not going to be enough to stem the tide.

"Despite exciting advances, this report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem," said IACR director Dr Chris Wild. "More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally."

The cost of cancer treatment "is spiralling out of control even for high income countries," Wild told the BBC.

The report recommends greater access to affordable treatments in the developing world, as well as greater emphasis on low-tech screening approaches and vaccination to tackle infection-related malignancies such as cervical and liver cancer.

Last year, both Merck & Co and GlaxoSmithKline offered their cervical cancer vaccines at discounted rates to developing nations, while also donating thousands of doses.

Meanwhile, in industrialised countries the focus should be on measures to promote physical activity and avoid obesity, improving diet and reducing smoking and alcohol consumption.

In 2012 the most common cancers diagnosed were those of the lung (13 per cent of the total), breast (around 12 per cent), and large bowel (10 per cent), according to the IACR. The most common causes of cancer death that year were cancers of the lung (19 per cent), and those of the liver and stomach, accounting for around 9 per cent of the total apiece.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th February 2014

From: Sales, Healthcare



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