Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, World Health Organization, South-East Asia Region speaks about World Cancer Day, 4 February. Every year cancer kills an estimated 1.1 million people in the WHO’s South-East Asia Region and nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases are reported. But cancer can be prevented with lifestyle and dietary changes and cured if detected early and treated adequately. Preventing and treating cancer is not beyond us. We need stronger policies, robust health promotion programs and concerted efforts by the government, private sector, communities and even individuals. There is a need for better awareness among people to make healthy life choices to reduce the risk of cancer, among other diseases. Simultaneously, the health sector needs to work towards making cancer services – screening and adequate treatment – accessible and affordable. With focused approach and joint efforts, we can prevent precious lives from being lost to cancer.
Nearly 30% cancer deaths can be prevented by addressing the main risk factors – tobacco use, alcohol, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess body weight. Additionally, cancer caused by infections, for example from hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and Human papilloma virus are also amenable to prevention. Tobacco use – smoking and chewing – is the single most important factor for cancer, causing 22% of the global 8.2 million deaths due to cancer, and 71% of the global lung cancer deaths. The South-East Asia Region is home to 250 million smokers and an equal number of smokeless tobacco users. Lung and oral cancers are the most common cancers among men in the Region, while cervical and breast cancers are the most common cancers in women.
Cancer deaths can be reduced considerably if cases are detected and treated early. Many cancers such as cervical, breast, and oral cancers, have higher cure rates if detected early and treated according to best practices. Regular cancer screening and identifying the early signs and symptoms are key to early detection of cancer. Globally, cancer cases are expected to rise by 70% over the next two decades if we do not act now. The World Cancer Day is an opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for urgent action by one and all to prevent, detect early and treat cancer successfully.