As we honor Cancer Prevention Month, I want to highlight some of the vast differences in cancer statistics across the world since we all know that cancer knows no boundaries.
Cancer is a disease that affects virtually everyone in some way. It disrupts our lives and in many cases, takes them too soon. It strikes unexpectedly and devastates men and women, young and old, people of every race, ethnicity and creed. It is blind to political affiliations, socioeconomic levels and geographic location.
In 2012, there were 14 million cancer cases worldwide. Approximately 8.2 million people—nearly equal to the entire population of Austria—died from the disease that year. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for an average of 1,580 deaths daily. That number is just too high.
Prevention and early detection are the most important keys to the future health and wellbeing of individuals and families around the world. Since February is Cancer Prevention month, it is not only a time to reflect on the progress we have made in the fight against this disease, but also to take bold steps toward dramatically decreasing the number of lives impacted by a cancer diagnosis.
Although these statistics are currently our reality, they simply don’t have to be. Only about five to ten percent of cancers have a strong hereditary link, and the World Health Organization states that cancer is avoidable to a large extent. With the knowledge we have right now, up to 60%of cancer cases and more than 50%of cancer deaths can be prevented.
Cancer prevention can be realized, in many cases, through healthy lifestyle changes such as refraining from the use of tobacco products, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, practicing sun safety, receiving recommended screenings and immunizations, practicing safe sex and knowing family medical history. We recognize this is easier said than done, but we’ve seen the efforts work.
Nearly 18%of Americans use tobacco products, and one person dies every six seconds from a tobacco-related disease in this country. Currently, 5.4 million people around the world die each year due to tobacco-related illnesses, and that figure is expected to soar to 8 million by 2030.
Obesity is poised to surpass tobacco as the leading cause of cancer within a few years. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, 600 million of whom were obese. Most people in the world now live in countries where more deaths are caused by obesity than malnourishment or starvation. Projections are dire for underserved populations and those living in poverty, those with lower education levels and those who are uninsured.
Infectious agents are responsible for almost 22%of cancer deaths in the developing world and six percent in industrialized nations. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, a highly preventable form of the disease, yet ravages the lives of young women who have no access to immunization, screening or treatment, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. With HPV vaccines now easily available, we must educate parents about this important cancer vaccine for both boys and girls. We have an opportunity to significantly reduce cervical, head and neck, anal and many other forms of cancer.
Cancer prevention has the potential to save millions of lives and it also makes compelling economic sense. In 2010, the cost of cancer care worldwide was $1.16 trillion, not including long-term care costs for patients and their families. Research shows that prevention efforts can save 4.5 million lives and almost $600 billion over the next 25 years in the U.S. alone, yet only three pennies of each health care dollar go toward prevention. Truly penny-wise and dollar-foolish.
Historically, the U.S. has been a leader in the fight against cancer, yet we are at risk of falling behind other countries because of competing policy and fiscal priorities. We need to invest in our health care and biomedical research infrastructure if we want to build on the progress we’ve already made and unlock the answers to our deadliest questions. I ask you to join together to advocate for increased funding in cancer prevention research and to promote and protect prevention strategies.
Cancer crosses social, political, and geographic lines, but so does the force of change when we work together. Let’s work together to make cancer history for generations to come.
About Prevent Cancer Foundation: The mission of the Prevent Cancer Foundation is saving lives through cancer prevention and early detection. Their vision is to Stop Cancer Before It Starts!
The Prevent Cancer Foundation advocates and supports the prevention and early detection of cancer through Research, Education, Advocacy and Community Outreach. To learn more, visit http://www.preventcancer.org/.