Each year more people die from cancer than any other cause. In 2012 cancer was responsible for 8.2 million deaths globally, and a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that number will jump to 13 million over the next two decades. Annual cancer cases are also expected to increase from 14 million to 22 million, and experts say we need to shift our focus from treatment to prevention.
In looking at the information compiled in the WHO’s World Cancer Report 2014, experts warn that annual spending on cancer treatment—over a trillion dollars—is already crippling the international economy. They urge countries to focus instead on prevention and early detection efforts to reduce costs as well as improve global health.
What are the Main Risk Factors?
The WHO online Cancer Fact Sheet, updated this month, reveals alcohol and tobacco use as well as an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are the main cancer risk factors worldwide, and more than 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, which include:
- Tobacco use
- Being overweight or obese
- Unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake
- Lack of physical activity
- Alcohol use
- Sexually transmitted HPV-infection
- Urban air pollution
- Indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels
Prevention strategies should concentrate on increasing awareness about these risk factors through education and outreach; providing vaccinations when possible; and reducing exposure to physical, chemical and biological toxins. Early detection is critical and involves two main components: early diagnosis (based on preliminary signs and symptoms) and screening (routine testing to detect early warning signs).
Until science discovers a cure for cancer, we need to do our part by taking control of our health and making smarter choices about what we put into our bodies—beginning with a healthy diet (high in non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, nuts and seeds) and regular exercise. Small steps indeed when world health is at stake!