February 4 is a day dedicated every year, all over the world, to the fight against cancer. Each World Cancer Day, the aim is to get as many governments and individuals as possible talking and learning about this truly global epidemic and to take action against it, in the hope of saving millions of lives.
This year, for the third and final year in a row, World Cancer Day takes place under the tagline “We can. I can.” The theme reminds us that everyone has the power to make a difference, however big or small. The first step is education. Sadly, some of the most lethal cancers are among the least known, making this an ideal time to also acknowledge under-recognized, under-researched and incurable killers.
About the Day
World Cancer Day was developed by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the largest non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting an international response to cancer, to unite others against one of the world’s deadliest diseases.
“It’s been a fantastic experience seeing [World Cancer Day] grow to the level it’s at today,” said Cary Adams, chief executive officer of UICC. “The reason that it’s so important is because cancer affects everyone. Over 8.8 million people will die this year from cancer and many of those cancers can be avoided, so we need people to take action, to use the day to reflect on what we can do about cancer globally.”
UICC works with similar organizations to run awareness campaigns at the local level and spread an important message: Worldwide cancer cases are increasing. From 8.8 million today, cancer deaths are expected to reach 21.7 million by 2030.
Rare Cancers Are World Cancers, Too
This increase can be seen across many forms of cancer. The latest Global Burden of Cancer report showed that cases increased by 33 percent between 2005 and 2015, the most common of which were breast, prostate and lung cancers.
In the next two decades, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), we’ll see another 70 percent rise in cancer cases due not only to genetic factors and aging, but also preventable risk factors like carcinogens. Tobacco is perhaps one of the most obvious carcinogens, but regarding other environmental hazards, we are still dangerously misinformed.
The prevalence of asbestos, for example, is often underestimated, but it’s the only known cause of mesothelioma, a lethal cancer that attacks the linings of the lungs. Worldwide, there are 100,000 more asbestos-related deaths and an estimated 10,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year – a number that could be even higher, since mesothelioma incidence is difficult to measure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the most efficient way to deal with biological and chemical carcinogens, including asbestos, is to stop all use. While about 60 countries, not including the United States, have now banned asbestos, global commerce still allows far too many uses of asbestos (while safer alternatives are available) and trades 2 million metric tons per year.
The Key to Prevention
The WHO estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of all cancer cases are preventable. To reduce their burden, we must avoid carcinogenic risk factors, detect and manage diseases early and improve treatment: all actions that are achievable through awareness and education.
The UICC suggests arranging local events and fundraising opportunities, getting involved with government and NGO activities or spreading awareness on social media. Per the Signs for Change campaign, you can print a poster, take a photo holding it and share with the hashtag #WeCanICan or #WorldCancerDay. The World Cancer Day website provides plenty of resources and information on other actions we can take, and welcomes ideas and opinions for future campaigns.
“Thank you very much if you are going to become involved,” said Adams. “Everything that you do raises the profile in the media and social media, and will help us understand cancer better around the world.”