World Cancer Day 2006: Focus on Avoidable Causes of Cancer

GENEVA, Switzerland, February 3, 2006 (ENS) - World Cancer Day on February 4 is marked this year by a warning from the World Health Organization that "dramatic increases in risk factors such as tobacco use and obesity" are contributing to a worldwide rise in cancer rates, particularly in low and middle income countries, where more than 70 percent of all cancer deaths occur.

Worldwide, 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2005 and 84 million people will die in the next 10 years if action is not taken, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

WHO has proposed a global goal of reducing death rates for all chronic diseases by two percent a year from 2006 to 2015. Achievement of this goal would avert over eight million of the projected 84 million deaths due to cancer in the next decade. WHO is stepping up its response to meet this target.

"We must, first and foremost, address the tremendous inequalities between developed and developing countries in terms of cancer prevention, treatment and care," said Dr. Catherine Le Galès-Camus, assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health with the United Nations health agency.


Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer. (Photo credit unknown)
Preventable risk factors include "many environmental carcinogens," says the UN health agency. In addition, 40 percent of cancer incidences can be prevented by a healthy diet, physical activity and not using tobacco.

"Globalization of markets and urbanization is leading to rising consumption of processed foods high in fats, sugars and salt, as well as tobacco products; declining consumption of fruit and vegetables; and more sedentary activity levels. As a consequence the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases is increasing," WHO warns.

Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer and causes a large variety of cancer types such as cancer of the lung, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, bladder, oral cavity.

World tobacco demand is expected to increase until the year 2010 due to population and income growth, but at lower rates than in the past, according to a study published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2004. It is the higher demand for tobacco in the developing countries that drives the world tobacco economy, the report said. Public policy to reduce tobacco use should focus on demand rather than supply, it suggested.

"Despite our knowledge that many cases are avoidable, or curable when detected early and treated according to best evidence, sadly for many people tumors are detected too late and adequate treatment is not available," said Dr. Le Galès-Camus. "The quality of life of many patients with cancer can be improved substantially by pain control and palliative care."

The agency says the entry into force this past year of the first WHO global health treaty - the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) - is a major step towards the goal of reducing tobacco use, which is the leading preventable cause of cancer. To date 121 countries are Parties to the treaty, which entered into force on February 27, 2005.

The first Convention of the Parties of the Treaty meets in Geneva from February 6 to 17 to plan implementation of the treaty's measures aimed at curbing tobacco consumption.


"Before I started to work in the garden cooperative my family never had vegetables. My children didn't like vegetables. Now they ask for more," says Caracas, Venezuela resident Rafael Plaza, here rinsing some spring onions he just harvested. (Photo courtesy FAO)
In addition, the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health has provided an approach to reducing key risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases. Low fruit and vegetable intake is estimated to cause some 2.7 million deaths each year, and was among the top 10 risk factors contributing to mortality, according to the World Health Report 2002.

The International Programme on Chemical Safety is a worldwide WHO-guided network aimed at reducing exposure to carcinogens. Established in 1980, it is a joint program of three cooperating organizations - the International Llabor Organization, the UN Environment Programme, and WHO. The program aims to establish the scientific basis for safe use of chemicals, and to strengthen national capabilities and capacities for chemical safety.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. From a total of 58 million deaths worldwide in 2005, cancer accounts for 7.6 million, or 13 percent, of all deaths.

The main types of cancer leading to overall cancer mortality are:

Cancer occurs because of changes of the genes responsible for cell growth and repair. These changes are the result of the interaction between genetic host factors and external agents which can be categorized as: WHO advocates an integrated approach to prevention, treatment and care for all leading chronic diseases.

Integrated approaches that combine cancer prevention, diagnosis, management with that for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases are necessary because the diseases share common risk factors - tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity - and require similar responses from the health system. Not only is the integrated approach best for prevention and treatment, the agency says it is also cost-effective.

Useful Links:

Facts about cancer and WHO's Cancer Control Strategy are available on:

"Face to face with chronic disease," stories of people living with cancer, highlighting the misunderstandings surround chronic disease available here.

Cancer Control Strategy at:

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:

Preventing Chronic Diseases: a vital investment, a WHO report online here.

The Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health at: