Press Release WHO/72
16 October 1998
CANCER TOLL CAN BE REDUCED DRAMATICALLY
WHO Launches Global Control Strategies and Calls for Partnership Between the Public and Private Sectors
The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched global cancer control strategies that can significantly reduce the incidence, morbidity and mortality from the disease. These strategies were discussed at an international conference "Cancer Strategies for the New Millennium", which opened at the Royal College of Physicians in London.
Dramatic increases in life expectancy, combined with profound changes in lifestyles will lead to global epidemics of cancer and other chronic, non-communicable diseases. Deaths from cancer, which in 1997 alone claimed more than 6 million lives, or 12% of all deaths worldwide, are on the rise. The global incidence of cancer -- the total number of new cancer cases annually is also soaring.
By 2020, WHO estimates that there will be some 20 million new cancer patients in the world each year. More than 70% of these patients will live in developing countries.
"New WHO strategies for cancer control make it quite feasible to reduce the global incidence of cancer by five million per year by 2020, as well as to reduce its mortality by almost half," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, in her written message to more than 100 participants, who came to London from 26 countries.
At the same time, she stressed, this would be achieved only if the resources and expertise that existed in both the public and the private sectors were pulled together. "It is essential that the private sector play its part since resources have become over stretched and the lives of millions of people are seriously at risk," emphasised Dr Brundtland.
"We could potentially prevent a quarter of all cancers by applying existing knowledge. A third are curable using today's technology and we expect this to rise to one half over the next 25 years," explained Professor Sikora, Chief of WHO's Programme on Cancer Control (PCC).
The new strategies are aimed at an integrated approach to cancer prevention, early detection, curative treatment and palliative care. At the core of these strategies is the so-called "cancer priority ladder", which provides internationally accepted priorities for developing effective national control programmes.
The "steps" include tobacco control, a curable cancer programme, a healthy eating programme, effective pain control, referral guidelines, clinical care guidelines, nurse education, a national cancer network, clinical evaluation, a clinical research programme, a basic research programme and an international aid programme.
Adapted to country realities, all these "steps" should work together to develop effective national cancer control programmes. A curative cancer programme, for example, is essential for making people look at cancer without despair and taking action. This programme in itself is the first step in setting up a comprehensive cancer service.
Encouraging healthy eating and encouraging food manufacturers to decrease fat and increase fibre content in their products is a cheap but effective intervention that can help prevent both cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
WHO will offer to its 191 Member States a comprehensive programme of expertise channelled through national Ministries of Health and Health Departments with the full participation of health professionals and workers already involved in cancer care.
In developing the new global control strategies, PCC has worked closely with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO cancer research branch. "The key to successful cancer prevention is accurate targeting," said professor Paul Kleihues, the Agency's Director.
"By understanding the causes of the diverse patterns of cancer in the world, we can help develop national prevention strategies carefully tailored to the epidemiological and economic situation of a specific country. At IARC, we have carefully collected data on the distribution of cancer in the world and have some of the world's leading epidemiologists evaluating the factors behind these patterns," said Dr Kleihues.
WHO's new strategies for cancer control have been welcomed by the international scientific and oncology communities, as well as by the British Government. "The Government is committed to improving cancer services in the UK and our central role in developing EU tobacco legislation and the success of the National Breast Cancer Screening Programme are just two examples of our commitment to tackling Britain's biggest killer," said Lady Hayman, the UK Minister of Health.
"WHO is to be congratulated for encouraging to place a higher priority on cancer and cancer care and for appealing to the business community to get involved," stated the Minister.
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