More than half of all countries worldwide are struggling to prevent cancer and provide treatment and chronic care to cancer patients, warns a recent World Health Organization (WHO) survey for World Cancer Day. This means, currently many of these countries do not have a functional cancer control plan that includes prevention, early detection, treatment and care. There is an urgent need to help countries to reduce cancer deaths and provide appropriate long-term treatment and care to avoid human suffering and protect countries’ social and economic development.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. 7.6 million people died from cancer worldwide in 2008 and every year almost 13 million cancer cases are newly diagnosed. Already more than two-thirds of these new cancer cases and deaths occur in developing countries where cancer incidence continues to increase at alarming rates. Research suggests that currently a third of all cancer deaths are due to modifiable risks including tobacco use, obesity, harmful use of alcohol and infections. If detected early many types of cancer such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer can be successfully cured.
“Cancer should not be a death sentence anywhere in the world as there are proven ways to prevent and cure many cancers,” says Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. “In order to reduce exposure to risk factors leading to cancer and ensure that every person living with cancer gets access to appropriate care and treatment, comprehensive cancer control programmes need to be set up in every country.”
The recent survey on national capacity for noncommunicable diseases, which included responses from 185 countries, revealed major gaps in cancer control planning and services. Even if countries developed cancer plans or policies, many countries are struggling to move from commitment to action. Often these plans are not integrated into wider national health and development planning. In addition, many countries lack institutional capacity, as well as decisive leadership to ensure adequate national funding for cancer control. Only 17% of the African countries and 27% of the low-income countries have cancer control plans with a budget to support implementation.
Furthermore, less than 50% of countries have population-based cancer registries. These registries are critical to capture high-quality information on the numbers and types of cancer cases so that effective national policies for cancer control can be developed, implemented and evaluated.
Recently, political commitments from world leaders to address cancer have gained steam, including discussions at the national level of funding cancer treatment and care by raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which are known risk factors for some cancers.