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Call for cancer control for poorer countries

The fight against cancer is increasingly becoming an issue for less economically developed countries (LEDCs) according to Professor Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, speaking at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona. Long considered only a concern for more economically developed countries (MEDCs), Professor Boyle said that LEDCs now face great difficulty tackling cancer, as their cancer burden increases and the resources stay low.

This struggle will be exacerbated by the rapidly growing world population, with the highest rate in LEDCs. He predicted that, based on current rates of growth and aging of the world's population, in the year 2030 there would be 27 million new cases diagnosed, 17 million cancer deaths, and 75 million people alive with cancer.

After population growth and aging, smoking and alcohol consumption were the two major determinants of cancer burden in LEDCs. These countries are less well equipped to deal with the extra burden due to their limited health budgets and high background level of communicable disease. Also, life extending cancer treatments are only available to a privileged few, if at all.

But, he maintained, something could be done. Europe has been seen to control cancer deaths with policies on primary prevention (particularly tobacco control), screening, and education training: "In the EU in 2000 we expected to see 1,033,083 deaths from cancer on the basis of age specific rates for the mid 1980s. In fact we now know that there were 935,219 cancer deaths in the EU in 2000, a reduction of 9.5%."

He also highlighted the absence of an objective for cancer treatment in the UN 'millennium goals' (a list of aims for the global community in the 21st century). The list did, however, include TB, AIDS, and malaria, despite cancer killing more each year than all three combined.

The UN's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) is set to provide 30 of the world's poorest countries with radiotherapy machines, but Professor Boyle called for further "strategic priorities to achieve progress". He concluded: "Such priorities must be realistic and achievable. Depending on general priorities and competing health priorities, all steps must be taken to avoid those cancers which are avoidable, treat those which are treatable, cure those that are curable and provide palliation to patients who need palliative care."


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