Dispelling myths on World Cancer Day 2013

Myths and misconceptions hinder efforts to prevent and reduce the increasing number of cancer cases in the Western Pacific Region, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

"We need to dispel the myth that cancer is a death sentence," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "There are effective ways to prevent as well as detect cancers in the early stages. Prompt treatment can cure many cancers."

World Cancer Day, observed every 4 February, seeks to raise awareness about the disease. WHO supports the International Union Against Cancer's efforts to promote the day as a means to reduce the global burden of the disease.

This year's theme focuses on dispelling damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, which kills more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Without significant action, WHO warns that preventable and curable cancers will continue to kill millions of people worldwide.

Myths and misconceptions on cancer continue to hamper efforts to prevent, screen for, detect early and treat cancer. These myths need to be clarified:

  • Myth: Cancer is just a health issue. In fact, cancer also has wide-reaching social, economic development and human rights implications.
  • Myth: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries. In fact, cancer is a global epidemic, affecting all ages, with low- and middle-income countries bearing the brunt.
  • Myth: Cancer is a death sentence. In fact, many cancers once considered death sentences can now be cured, and for many more people their cancers can now be treated effectively.
  • Myth: Cancer is my fate. In fact, with the right strategies, more than one in every three cancers can be prevented.

Interventions to prevent and manage the disease are now widely available. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of cancer, which is why countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region are scaling up their tobacco control efforts. Alcohol, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are also risk factors for cancers of the breast, stomach and colon, among others.

Prevention of liver cancer through hepatitis B immunization and prevention of cervical cancer through screening (visual inspection with acetic acid) and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions are identified as "best buys" (highly cost-effective, feasible and culturally acceptable to implement) for cancer control.

In 2010, there were more than 4.2 million cancer cases in the Western Pacific Region. Lung, stomach, liver and colorectum topped cancer cases in men. In women, the leading types of cancer were of the breast, lung, stomach and colorectum. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of cases is expected to increase by 30% in the Region—or an additional 1.2 million cases.

“Cancer control needs everyone’s support," Dr Shin says. "An enabling environment helps people live healthy lives."

Dr Shin recommends an integrated risk approach through a "whole-of-government" and "whole-of-society" approach with an emphasis on preventing cancers and early detection.

WHO calls for well-conceived, well-managed national control programmes to reduce the number of cancer cases and deaths through implementation of evidence-based strategies for prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment. It likewise calls for the improvement of the quality of life of cancer patients, including the use of cancer pain control.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Hai-Rim Shin
Team Leader, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion
Telephone: +632 528 9860
E-mail: shinh@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Telephone: +632 528 9992
Mobile: Mobile: +63 999 889 3974
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int

Share

Health topic