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Dispelling myths can help prevent cancer deaths

On World Cancer Day, February 4, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is helping to “Debunk the myths” about cancer in collaboration with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

“Many people still think a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence and that cancer is an unavoidable disease,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “In fact, today many cancers are curable if they are detected early, and a third of the most common cancers are preventable.”

Nearly 3 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the Americas, and 1.3 million die from the disease. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the hemisphere, after cardiovascular disease. For men, the most common cancers are lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer; for women, the most common are breast, lung, and cervical cancer, according to the PAHO/WHO report Cancer in the Americas: Country Profiles 2013.

World Cancer Day’s “Debunk the myths” campaign targets the following misconceptions:

Myth 1: We don’t need to talk about cancer
Truth: While cancer can be a difficult topic to address, particularly in some cultures and settings, dealing with the disease openly can improve outcomes at the individual, community, and policy levels.

Myth 2: There are no signs or symptoms of cancer
Truth: For many cancers, there are warning signs and symptoms, and the benefits of early detection are indisputable.

Myth 3: There is nothing I can do about cancer
Truth: There is a lot that can be done at an individual, community and policy level and with the right strategies; a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.

Myth 4: I don’t have the right to cancer care
Truth: All people have the right to access proven and effective cancer treatments and services on equal terms, and without suffering hardship as a consequence.

Speaking openly and debunking myths about cancer can help reduce the stigma and fear that surrounds the disease, leading more people to get check-ups and to benefit from early diagnosis, as well as to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Measures to prevent and control cancer

People can reduce their risk of cancer by avoiding tobacco, being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding alcohol, and eating more fruits and vegetables. The risk can also be reduced by getting vaccinated against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) and by avoiding exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and other substances, such as asbestos, and ionizing radiation, including sun rays.

Suffering and deaths from cancer can be reduced through strategies for early detection and treatment, improved access to and quality of cancer and palliative care, and expansion of HPV and hepatitis B vaccination.

PAHO/WHO is working with its member countries to implement such strategies as part of its efforts to strengthen health systems as well as to promote universal health coverage.

“Social protection mechanisms, especially universal health coverage, are fundamental to ensure that people enjoy full access to health services and to opportunities to prevent and control cancer. High costs must not become an obstacle to starting or continuing treatment,” said PAHO Director Etienne.

Regional commitment to reduce cancer deaths

Some 40% of cancer deaths in the Americas are considered premature, that is, they occur before age 75. In 2009, 530,938 people ages 30 to 69 died from cancer in the region, according to PAHO/WHO data. Moreover, millions of people who have survived cancer will continue to need care throughout their lives.

With PAHO/WHO support, the countries of the Americas last year pledged to carry out a plan of action to reduce premature deaths from cancer and other noncommunicable diseases by 19% by 2019 and 25% by 2025.

To achieve these goals, PAHO/WHO is working to strengthen policies for cancer prevention, including in the areas of tobacco control; reduction of alcohol consumption; and improved quality of and access to cancer care, including early detection, especially for breast and cervical cancer, and palliative care.

World Cancer Report 2014

For World Cancer Day, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of WHO, is launching the World Cancer Report 2014, a collaboration of over 250 leading scientists from more than 40 countries, describing multiple aspects of cancer research and control.

Based on the latest statistics on trends in cancer incidence and mortality worldwide, the report reveals how the cancer burden is growing at an alarming pace and emphasizes the need for urgent implementation of efficient prevention strategies to curb the disease.

In 2012, the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, a figure expected to rise to 22 million annually within the next two decades. Over the same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million per year. Globally, in 2012 the most common cancers diagnosed were those of the lung (1.8 million cases, 13.0% of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9%), and large bowel (1.4 million, 9.7%). The most common causes of cancer death were cancers of the lung (1.6 million, 19.4% of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1%), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8%).

PAHO was founded in 1902 and is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with all of the countries in the continent to improve health and quality of life for the people of the region. It acts as the Regional Office for the Americas of the WHO and is also the specialized health agency for the inter-American health system.


Useful Links:

World Cancer Day – www.worldcancerday.org

Cancer (PAHO) – www.paho.org/cancer

Cancer (WHO) – www.who.int/cancer/prevention/es

Cancer in the Americas: Country Profiles 2013

World Cancer Report 2014

Cancer mortality is declining in some countries of the Americas – new PAHO/WHO report

Source: PAHO/WHO