WHO raises cancer alarm---but says fight is not lost

News release

MANILA, 2 February 2010—The World Health Organization (WHO) today warned that without urgent action, global cancer deaths will dramatically increase from 7.6 million this year to 17 million by 2030.

Cancer is a major killer in both developed and developing countries, and accounts for one in eight deaths worldwide—more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. And yet many of these deaths can be avoided, WHO said.

More than 30% of all cancers can be prevented through simple measures such as no tobacco use, a healthy diet and exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, and protection against cancer-causing infections. Some cancers can be detected early, treated and cured.

On 4 February each year, World Cancer Day is observed to raise people's awareness of cancer and how to prevent, detect and treat the disease. "Cancer can be prevented too" is this year's campaign slogan.

In the Western Pacific Region, it is estimated that in 2008 close to 3.7 million new cases occurred—2.2 million in men and 1.5 million in women. Nearly 2.6 million people in the Region died from cancer that year.

"There is a universal fear of cancer," said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo. "But, with the right frame of mind, and by taking appropriate action, some cancers can be averted or cured."

For instance, smoking is the single largest preventable cause of cancer. By avoiding this risk factor and encouraging healthy behaviour, such as regular exercise and eating healthily, people can significantly reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Physical inactivity is also estimated to be the cause of around 25% of breast cancer and colon cancer cases globally. For adults, at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each day reduces the risk of breast and colon cancers.

Each year, over 12 million people are diagnosed with cancer. If no action is taken, WHO warned that the worldwide cancer burden is projected to grow significantly—with the most rapid increases occurring in low- and medium-income countries.

Fact Sheet on Cancer

Tobacco use and passive smoking

  • Smoking causes 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths, and about one third of all cancer deaths in developing countries, including cancer of the mouth, voice box, throat and stomach.

Alcohol consumption

  • Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box, breast, bowel and liver.
  • Those who drink roughly 1 litre of wine or 2 litres of beer a day have a four to six-fold greater risk of these cancers compared to light or non-drinkers.

Physical activity

  • There is consistent evidence that taking regular physical activity reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Healthy diet

  • High fibre intake (27 grams a day) is associated with 20% lower risk of bowel cancer, whereas red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer, and a high intake of salt and salt-preserved foods increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Increasing intake of vegetables and fruits is also recommended.

Healthy weight

  • Evidence indicates that being overweight or obese (body mass index above 25) increases the risk of developing cancers of the womb, kidney, oesophagus, stomach, colon, breast (in post-menopausal women), prostate, gall bladder and pancreas.

Sun exposure

  • Excessive exposure to the sun or artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as sunbeds, increases the risk of skin cancer.


  • Close to 22% of cancer deaths in developing countries and 6% in industrialized countries are caused by chronic infections such as the hepatitis B or C viruses (which cause cancer of the liver), human papillomavirus (which causes cervical cancer) and helicobacter pylori bacteria (which increases the risk of stomach cancer).

Early detection

  • About one third of the cancer burden could be decreased if cases were detected and treated early. The aim is to detect the cancer when it is localized.

For more information, please contact, Dr Cherian Varghese, Technical Officer, Noncommunicable Disease Unit, at +63 928 5220200 or
e-mail: varghesec@wpro.who.int