Media Statement on World Cancer Day 2016
By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
Every year across the world 8.2 million people die from cancer. The fact that two-thirds of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries, and that more than 50% of deaths could have been prevented, is a cause for reflection and action.
Tobacco use – in both smoke and smokeless forms – accounts for 22% of cancer deaths globally, and is a leading cause of the disease in the South-East Asia Region. Alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity similarly contribute to a burden that has profoundly negative social, economic and developmental implications. The choices we make significantly affect the risk of cancer.
In the South-East Asia Region, occupational hazards and exposure to environmental substances continue to be a source of cancer and premature death. Whether through laboring in fields without adequate sun protection or exposure to cancer-causing chemicals at a factory, workers throughout the Region are exposed to risks.
Outdoor air pollution, meanwhile, increases the risk of cancer for us all. The Region has 14 of the world’s top 20 polluted cities, making clear the need for governments to tackle the issue with a sense of urgency. Chronic infections caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and C viruses, and Helicobacter pylori are also highly prevalent in the Region and important causes of preventable cancers.
To address these issues, both at a systemic and individual level, increased awareness is critical.To this end, the theme of World Cancer Day 2016-2018 – ‘We can. I can’ – is both welcome and vital.
Increasing awareness means supporting healthy workplaces; encouraging people to get regular check-ups for early detection of cancerous cells for improved chances of recovery; and encouraging people to abstain from tobacco use, avoid alcohol and unhealthy foods, and exercise regularly.
We need to improve access to cancer treatment and services across the care continuum, and build the capacity of the workforce staffing these services. We also need to work towards developing and enforcing strong policies to reduce tobacco and alcohol use and reducing exposure to environmental carcinogens.
As lifespans increase and the natural ageing process takes its course, these measures will prove invaluable to the fight against cancer, both at an individual and societal level.This much we can all do.
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