06:41am Saturday 04 April 2020

“Once-in-generation” chance for 2.8 million preventable cancers

World Cancer Research Fund issued the warning as it released estimates that there are about 2.8 million cancer cases a year globally that are linked to diet, physical activity and weight, a figure that is expected to rise dramatically over the next 10 years.

The number of global cancers has increased by a fifth in less than a decade to reach 12 million new cases a year, more than four times the 2.6 million annual number of new HIV infections.

NCDs are a threat to the whole world and, in particular, developing countries, with global rates of heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease expected to soar. The UN is holding the high-level Summit on September 19 and 20 to address what can be done to reduce this growing disease burden.

It is only the second time in the UN’s history that a health issue is receiving such high levels of global attention. WCRF is concerned that failure to develop robust global and national policy for NCD prevention will lead to millions of preventable deaths. WCRF is calling on David Cameron to attend the Summit in person to demonstrate his commitment to tackling NCDs in the UK and worldwide.

Professor Martin Wiseman, Medical and Scientific Adviser for WCRF, said: “Cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases are one of the biggest challenges we face today and the UN Summit later this month is a real turning point.

“With millions of lives at risk around the world, the stakes are incredibly high. And while this is an issue facing millions globally, every day in the UK people are being diagnosed with a cancer that could have been prevented. Yet many people are still unaware that risk factors such as alcohol and obesity affect cancer risk, while from television advertising to the pricing of food, our society works in a way that discourages people from adopting healthy habits. But this Summit offers the chance to look at public health issues at the international level.”

While cancer rates are higher in richer countries where people tend to be more overweight and less physically active, cancer and other non-communicable diseases are increasingly affecting developing countries, many of which do not have the health infrastructure to cope with a large increase in cancer cases and are barely managing now.

Dr Kate Allen, Director of Science and Communications for WCRF, said: “We tend to think of cancer and other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as largely being a problem for the developed world. But even poor countries are seeing increasing obesity rates as people eat more processed food and become less active.

“Already there are 7 million cancer cases diagnosed a year in the developing world and that is likely to rise dramatically. Unless we act now to prevent cancer and other NCDs, the charity appeals of the future will not just be for disasters and famines, but to pay for cancer care. It truly is a global health problem of great magnitude, and one that threatens workforce productivity and the world’s economy.

“However, this is not inevitable. If governments around the world show real leadership now then the Summit could lead to the kind of changes that would mean millions of people are spared the needless suffering of being diagnosed with a cancer.

“But if the Summit does not lead to this kind of change, we will look back at this once-in-a-generation international event as a missed opportunity to stem the rising tide of lifestyle-related diseases.”

WCRF International will be among the civil society organisations attending the Summit in New York.


For more information, call Richard Evans on 020 7343 4253 or Andy Wilks on 020 7343 4273.

Notes to editors:

  • Incidence data on new HIV cases is taken from the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/hiv/data/2009_global_summary.png)
  • The aim of the September 2011 UN Summit is to bring Heads of State and other representatives from the UN member states together to agree on commitments to tackle the growing global burden of cancer and other NCDs. These commitments will be agreed in an official Summit Outcomes Document, which will detail the commitments made by countries around the world.
  • The four major NCDs are: cancer, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Globally, two in every three deaths are caused by NCDs and NCDs are a serious problem in all regions of the world and affect high, middle and low-income countries. NCDs share a number of common risk factors, such as tobacco use, obesity, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.
  • The 2.8 million has been calculated by using the findings of the Preventability Estimates that about 25% of all cancer could be prevented in high-income countries and 20% in medium and low-income countries. These percentages were then applied to what the Globocan database (http://globocan.iarc.fr/) categorises as “more developed” and “less developed” regions to calculate the total number of preventable cancers.

About WCRF

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.

This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit www.wcrf-uk.org

The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit www.dietandcancerreport.org

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