WHO/Europe statement on World Cancer Day

The annual World Cancer Day provides a platform for patient groups, public health advocates and professionals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international institutions and health academics to raise their voices in a united call for more commitment to tackling cancer in all its forms and in all arenas of society. This disease is already the leading cause of death in a number of countries in the WHO European Region, and demographic changes will only increase its impact on population health. Given the real and urgent public health issue that cancer represents, WHO/Europe renews its call to action, urging policy-makers, health professionals, patients and citizens to join forces to tackle one of the primary health challenges of today. Each of these actors has an important role to play in future disease prevalence, and everyone can contribute to stemming the mortality rate and contributing to better health for all Europeans.

The achievement of this noble objective must be driven by dedicated policy-makers, who combine a passion for public service with smart, evidence-based programmes to help not only the patients and families currently affected by cancer, but also the citizens whose future health depends on their foresight and action. Ministries of health across Europe (and indeed across the world) are charged with taking the lead in this fight. Their duties encompass not only the governance and operation of cancer treatment services but also the proactive advocacy of public health across all sectors of society. The solemn obligation of protecting and promoting health begins with prevention (through such means as public health messages and education that foster responsible health behaviour among citizens) and includes intersectoral outreach (to guarantee that healthy choices are not only desirable but easy to make).

WHO/Europe will stand with the Member States in the Region, providing guidance and technical assistance to health ministries and other policy-makers through a wide range of programmes that highlight prevention and evidence-based policies as key strategies in addressing the present and future cancer burden. For example, the WHO Regional Director for Europe is leading Member States and partners in the formulation and implementation of the new European health policy, Health 2020; prevention is a cornerstone of this approach to revitalize public health in Europe. In addition, WHO/Europe is implementing the WHO Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, and helping countries develop national cancer control programmes to guarantee integrated services from prevention to palliative care. Finally, WHO/Europe is supporting its institutional partners in developing other valuable policy initiatives. These include the 2008 Slovenian Presidency of the European Union, which took huge strides in prioritizing cancer on its policy agenda and later the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer, which is led by the European Commission and is especially promising. Finally, the first global ministerial conference on healthy lifestyles and noncommunicable diseases (which will be held on 28–29 April 2011in Moscow, Russian Federation) and the upcoming United Nations high-level meeting on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (to be held on 19–20 September 2011 in New York, United States of America) will be historic opportunities to secure renewed global commitment to tackling cancer, and other noncommunicable diseases.

Health professionals, who dedicate their lives to improving health, comprise an essential pillar of policy implementation and success. Researchers will support policy-makers by providing guidance on effective programmes and policies. WHO gratefully acknowledges the excellent work in this arena of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which marks World Cancer Day 2011 with the first European guidelines for quality assurance in colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis, published by the European Commission.

In addition, physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists and other health care professionals play an important role in guiding patients through diagnosis, treatment and recovery and, when necessary, into death. These professionals prevent cancer every day through behavioural counselling and screening, and they treat cancer using all the resources at their disposal. No World Cancer Day can be celebrated without recognizing their invaluable work for the benefit of all.

In the same way, this Day is also dedicated to past, present and future cancer patients. They have been the centre of all of WHO’s efforts, as well as a vital partner in research, treatment, awareness raising and advocacy. Patients provide the moral compass of public health efforts on their behalf, and add value to any initiative that has their participation. WHO vigorously supports patient empowerment as the backbone of disease control policies in the European Region.

Finally, World Cancer Day is about citizens. Cancer touches everyone, whether as a patient or as a family member, friend, colleague or simply neighbour and member of the community. Thus, society must unite to face this challenge, and all must assume some responsibility for watching over the health of themselves and their communities. This solidarity may take the form of action to protect oneself (quitting smoking or protecting others from the harm associated with tobacco, moderating alcohol intake, exercising regularly or trying to improve one’s diet) or others (educating others or listening to those with greater expertise). Above all, citizens can participate in World Cancer Day by making every day a day to prevent cancer.

WHO supports the efforts of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to collect 1 million signatures for its World Cancer Day Declaration and to present it to world leaders at the United Nations high-level meeting. With valuable partners worldwide (including WHO headquarters, UICC, IARC, the European Commission and others), WHO/Europe invites all Europeans to support the fight against cancer and for health. Increased prevention and better, more effective treatment are within reach if all stakeholders work together to achieve better health, today and tomorrow.