International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Governing Council

Lyon, France
14 May 2003

Dr Kleihues, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

The global burden of cancer is on the increase. Ten million people developed a malignant tumour in 2000. With the unfortunate trends of increases in unhealthy lifestyles and tobacco use, the number of new cases will rise by half by 2020 – to 15 million new cancer cases per year. For every person with cancer, there are families and friends who also must cope with the threat and fear of the disease.

The more affluent we get, the greater the risks of cancer. In developed countries, tobacco use, earlier exposure to occupational carcinogens, and the western diet and lifestyle, are causing twice as high mortality from cancer as in developing countries. Tumours of the lung, colorectum, breast and prostate are prevalent in the most developed areas.

In developing countries, infectious agents pose the main risk now. Existing vaccines for hepatitis B, and the promise of a vaccine for human papillomavirus hold promise for preventing liver and cervical cancer. But we must be ready for a rise in other cancers in developing countries as well – with the increasing adoption of unhealthy lifestyles and lack of physical activity.

Cancer prevention and control are among the most important scientific and public health challenges of our time. Understanding and controlling malignant disease have broad dimensions. This involves scientific knowledge and experience ranging from the complexities of intracellular molecular regulation to individual lifestyle choices. It also requires competent management and the best use of available resources for planning, implementing and evaluating disease control strategies. The synergies between WHO headquarters and IARC are crucial to moving this agenda forward.

It is clear that tobacco use remains the most important avoidable cancer risk. One of every two people who smoke will die from their habit. At current rates, 10 million people will die in 2020 as a result of tobacco. To stem this trend, the World Health Assembly is scheduled to adopt the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control next week. Throughout the months and late nights we have spent on this Convention, IARC has been there, continuously feeding research into the process as exemplified by your report on passive smoking. The resulting Tobacco Convention is an historic achievement in global public health – with the potential to reduce tobacco consumption and save lives, for generations to come.

Member States are, as you know, also asking us to develop a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. By recommending healthier ways to eat, and assisting with the work to make this possible, we can have an impact on reduction in more cancers. Ongoing research has been crucial for our understanding of cancer – its causes, and the methods of prevention and treatment. Research helps us better understand the risks, and importantly, brings us better anti-cancer drugs. IARC leads the field.

Due to evidence collected through research, we can now say that with existing tools and knowledge, one third of cancers can be prevented. When there are sufficient resources, one third can be detected and treated. And we know that pain relief and palliative care can improve the quality of life of cancer patients and their families the world over.

We have learned that no matter what resource restraints a country faces, a well-conceived, well-managed national cancer control programme is able to lower cancer incidence and improve the lives of people living with cancer. WHO’s mission is to continue to reduce cancer deaths, enable the reduction of risks, strengthen health systems, so they are better able to treat and care for those with cancer, and to work in partnership to ensure the very best evidence is gathered, shared and used.

Indeed, our collaboration has produced an exceptional tool which helps us on each of these fronts. The World Cancer Report, launched to much acclaim just a few weeks ago, includes the latest evidence on the causes of cancer, prevention and screening, types of cancers, management and control. Combining the best public health information from WHO headquarters and the latest in research from IARC, the World Cancer Report has set a new standard. This is already well-recognized – the Report has proven so popular that IARC has already sent it for re-printing.

The report will be the basis for discussions in the forthcoming meeting of a new Alliance against Cancer which we are developing together with the UICC and other partners. This Alliance of key players in the cancer field will have its second meeting in early June in Chicago and will continue to create a much greater awareness on cancer.

Now we can take this Report even further – and look to regularly updating it to note the latest trends in statistics, and progress in early detection, in treatment, and in implementation of national cancer control policies. The World Cancer Report can remain the most authoritative, credible source of information well into the future.

Now, of course, we are entering a new phase in IARC with the choice of a new Director for the forthcoming years. That person will surely have many difficult challenges in the Cancer Research field. But the new Director will inherit a very solid organization with which to meet those challenges.

That inheritance has come about by the leadership shown in this field by Dr. Kleihues, who I wish to warmly thank on this occasion for his hard work and many international achievements. Under his influence and that of this Governing Council and Scientific Council, IARC has been re-energized, the scope of its activities has grown considerably, new Member States are joining and articles by IARC staff are highly visible in top class scientific journals. Dr Kleihues’ active participation at the WHO Global Cabinet has also been greatly appreciated by all of us.

We look forward to continued strong collaboration between WHO headquarters and IARC. Our impact on cancer issues is greatest when we join forces as “One WHO.” This is particularly important now, when health issues are increasingly global and when others look to us both for leadership, and partnership.

In closing, I wish to thank all of you for your continuing support to this excellent research agency, and wish you every success with the challenges of the future.