4 Steps We Can All Take on World Cancer Day to Reduce the Global Cancer Burden

February 2, 2024
Jyoti Patel, MD, FASCO

This post was first published on February 3, 2023.

Each year on February 4, we come together to celebrate World Cancer Day. Created by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in 2000, this global initiative unites people from all over the world to reimagine a reality where millions of cancer deaths are prevented and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equitable for all.

World Cancer Day was created to improve awareness and expand knowledge of cancer risks, prevention, detection, and treatment. By engaging organizations, governments, and individuals from around the world, it has become of one of the most celebrated global health awareness days.

It is important to spread information about cancer so that people are motivated to take action to diminish its toll. The staggering global cancer death rate impacts us all. In 2020, nearly 10 million people died from cancer worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Cancer remains the second most common cause of death worldwide, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), and it’s clear that access to health care impacts outcomes, as 70% of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

We also know that up to one-half of cancer deaths worldwide are caused by preventable risk factors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. And, we are recognizing that cancer doesn’t just physically take a toll; its impact on mental and economic health are staggering. The total global economic cost of cancer due to lost productivity and premature deaths annually is estimated to be over $1 trillion.

But, when we unite in our shared commitment to reduce cancer’s burden, we can make a real impact.

This year marks the third year of World Cancer Day’s “Close the Care Gap” initiative, which is centered upon the issue of equity. And it’s clear that through global efforts, there has been real progress made in reducing cancer deaths. For example, the ACS recently reported that the overall cancer death rate in the United States has dropped by 33% since 1991, averting an estimated 3.8 million cancer deaths. Remarkably, the incidence of cervical cancer was decreased by 65% in women between ages 20 and 24 from 2012 to 2019. This was the first cohort to receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which highlights the importance of the vaccine as a cancer prevention strategy. Basic science research has accelerated progress like never before, and this has brought new and effective treatments for a number of cancers. Ultimately, cancer research being done all over the globe benefits people everywhere.

However, there are still steps each of us can take to help close the care gap:

1: We can continue to talk about cancer. We can work to educate our loved ones about things we can all do to reduce the risk of developing cancer. For example, we can recognize and work to address known risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol use. We can also spread the word about the symptoms and signs of cancer. When we do this, our friends and family might be more likely to realize when there is something wrong and will be more likely to get a potentially life-saving checkup.

2: We can take preventive measures. These measures may include avoiding the use of tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, following a balanced diet, and getting regular physical activity.

3: We can keep up with our cancer screening. Following cancer screening recommendations affects cancer outcomes. Doctors are more likely to cure cancer if it is found at an early stage and if treatment begins soon after diagnosis.

4: We can help our loved ones with cancer. If someone you know has cancer, you likely understand how many obstacles exist when trying to get cancer care. It may be that giving someone a ride to treatment, helping them with childcare or errands, or picking up their groceries will lessen some of their barriers to care. That way, they can keep focused on their cancer treatment and wellbeing.

Every gesture and each effort, no matter how big or small, helps us come together to reduce cancer’s burden. And if we sincerely work towards our goal, we might even be able to remove this disease forever from our lives.

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