World Cancer Day 2013. Cancer – Did you know?

“Cancer – Did you know?”

As every year on 4 February, World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) support the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in promoting ways to reduce the global burden of cancer.

“Did you know?” is the question posed for World Cancer Day 2013, which focuses on debunking damaging myths and misconceptions about the disease, reinforcing that there are still too many preconceived ideas about cancer that need demystifying and putting right. Prevention involves various approaches, and one aspect of this many-pronged effort, led by multiple agencies, is conveying clear messages to the public to improve general knowledge about cancer.

In 2013, IARC would like to illustrate its commitment to cancer prevention by drawing on research experience to dispel the misconception that cancer is only a disease of wealthy and elderly people and developed economies.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan has stated repeatedly that “what gets measured gets done”, setting the trend for evidence-based research to support cancer control measures.

A seminal study published recently by IARC scientists sheds light on which populations are affected by cancer. The scientists found that age-adjusted disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – years of “healthy” life – lost due to cancer are substantial irrespective of world region. Cancer is a global epidemic, affecting all countries. The study established that people tend to die younger from their cancers in those countries where the human development index (HDI) is lower. The consistently larger proportions of years of life lost due to premature mortality from cancer in low-HDI than in high-HDI countries indicate substantial inequalities in prognosis after diagnosis, related to degree of human development. Therefore, low- and middle-income countries bear a disproportionate burden.

The heterogeneous geographical distribution of cancer and the range of risk factors mean that a cancer-specific response is needed that should be tailored to different geographical regions. In particular, attention should be focused on cancer in low- and middle-income countries.

“The areas of poverty and health inequalities as barriers to sustainable development will have enormous scientific and political relevance in the post-Millennium Development Goals (post-2015) period across the non-communicable disease spectrum,” said IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild on this occasion. “We believe that research aimed at understanding the causes and prevention of cancer in the low and middle-income countries must now be made a priority,” he added.