Up to 40% of cancer cases could be prevented

Copenhagen, 4 February 2010

Changes in lifestyle and improved prevention and screening policies could prevent up to 40% of all cancer cases, the WHO Regional Office for Europe said before World Cancer Day on 4 February 2010.

People can significantly reduce their cancer risk by avoiding risk factors (such as tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, excessive sun exposure and obesity) and adopting healthier lifestyles. As cancer incidence rates continue to rise, governments have a crucial role in raising awareness and putting in place comprehensive early detection measures.

“Well-conceived, effective national cancer control programmes are essential to fight cancer and to improve the lives of cancer patients,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, the new WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We urge governments to rigorously implement the four basic components of cancer control – prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and palliative care.”

Across the WHO European Region, low-income and disadvantaged groups are particularly exposed to risk factors and infectious agents leading to avoidable cancer. These groups are less aware of risk factors and have limited access to health services.

Cancer statistics

According to the latest statistics, cancer causes around 7.6 million deaths worldwide each year. Of these, more than 72% occur in low- and middle-income countries. Deaths from cancer are projected to continue rising, to an estimated 17 million worldwide in 2030.

Lung cancer is expected to keep killing more people than any other type, unless efforts for global tobacco control are greatly intensified. Some types (cancer of the prostate, breast and colon) are more common in developed countries; others (cancer of the liver, stomach and cervix) are more common in developing countries.

Of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region, Hungary has the highest cancer mortality rate (458 per 100 000 population), followed by the Russian Federation and Ukraine (347 per 100 000). This has been suggested to be the result of high smoking rates.

Breast cancer is responsible for the most cancer-related deaths in women (17.2% of the total), while lung cancer is a leading killer among men (26.9% of the total) in the European Region. Lung cancer mortality rates are highest in Hungary (135 per 100 000 population), followed by Poland (93 per 100 000) and Croatia (86 per 100 000). Romania leads the statistics in cervical cancer deaths (21 per 100 000 population) while breast cancer deaths are highest in Belgium and Armenia (37 per 100 000)..

World Cancer Day 2010 campaign

WHO is an important partner in this year’s World Cancer Day campaign, led by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), an umbrella for organizations working on cancer control.

UICC’s scientific report, to be published on 4 February, will focus on cancer that can be caused by infectious agents (viruses, bacteria and other pathogens) and the means for intervention and prevention. WHO estimates that infections cause 22% of cancer deaths in low- and middle income countries, and 6% in developed countries.

Leading sports personality Lance Armstrong, composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and former tennis champion Steffi Graf are among the celebrity activists lending their voices to the campaign.

WHO supports UICC’s World Cancer Declaration, an international call to substantially reduce the global cancer burden by 2020. The international cancer control community developed the Declaration to bring the cancer crisis to the attention of policy-makers worldwide. It lays out an ambitious set of 11 targets and an action plan to stop and reverse current trends.

For more information, contact:

Ms Zsofia Szilagyi
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 16 27. Fax: +45 39 17 18 80
E-mail: szz@euro.who.int