The World Cancer Day on 4th February represents the most important date in the year for cancer advocacy & activism.
The day is organized by the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control) & observed worldwide.
The UICC was founded 1933 & is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The UICC works with government & non-government agencies, cancer societies, research institutes, hospitals & patient groups across the world.
Each WCD is characterized by some brief, yet impactful messages (usually 4 such) underpinned by the tagline of the year.
The tagline of WCD 2015 is “Not Beyond Us”, while the 4 messages are:
People across the world need to be empowered to make healthy lifestyle choices. This is a fundamental need if we are to achieve the goal of the World Cancer Declaration and reduce death from non-communicable diseases by 25% by the year 2025.
Smoking is possibly the most recognized risk factor for a number of cancers, including leukemia, carcinomas of the upper aerodigestive tract, lungs & urinary bladder. Discouraging people from smoking, creating awareness about smoking-related cancers & legislative support, such as banning smoking in public places & restricting advertising of tobacco-products are all ways to achieve this goal.
Other lifestyle factors are also being increasingly recognized, especially obesity & lack of exercise. Promotion of healthier diets & encouraging exercise, including integration into school curriculums & the workplace, will surely be effective in this regard.
On the other hand, certain cancers, which are related with viral infections can be prevented by adopting certain preventive measures. These include cervical cancer (due to HPV-human papilloma virus infection) & liver cancer(due to HBV-Hepatitis B virus & HCV-Hepatitis C virus infections); HPV & HBV can be prevented by use of the relevant vaccines, which should become part of universal immunization programmes; HBV & HCV can be prevented by thorough screening of blood products, as well as avoidance of high-risk behaviours (such as IV drug abuse, sharing of tattoo needles,etc.)
While all cancers are difficult to detect early, it is important to integrate the early detection programmes within the comprehensive health programme, as this is ultimately more productive.
This includes upgrading knowledge & awareness in the health care professionals, as well as clearing public misconceptions about the disease & its treatment & efforts to remove the social stigma of the disease.
Educating the public about the signs & symptoms of common cancers may yet have a significant impact in reducing the time to diagnosis, especially for childhood cancers.
The media & employers can all be extremely useful in provision & dissemination of information about disease symptoms, cancer screening programmes & relevant health facilities.
Cancer has a significant financial burden. The cost of cancer care is expected to reach USD 458 billion by 2030. Each health care system needs to deal with this issue.
All patients need access to the best quality modern drugs (many of which are still on-patent) at affordable prices; equally important is that patients, especially in developing countries, should be funded to receive high-quality modern radiotherapy, which has been shown to be more effective/ better tolerated than with older-generation machines .
National cancer programmes, accordingly, must have sufficient budgetary allocations for clinic & radiotherapy infrastructure, staff training & provision of essential cancer medicines at controlled rates. The cooperation & understanding of policy makers, legislators, as well as awareness among health care professionals , are of vital importance.
Cancer can have a huge impact on a person’s mental well-being, his employability, social standing & sexual life, not just on his physical well-being. Awareness of these issues is essential, as is removing the social stigma of cancer & creation of supportive workplaces for cancer survivors.
Patient support groups are of great importance in helping patients understand & cope with their disease, its treatment & their consequences, including rehabilitation issues.
Patients also need access to better symptom-control, especially pain relief. At present, low & mid-income countries consume only 7% of the world’s Morphine; it is important for barriers in supply of Morphine to the patients who need it, be removed, while continuing to ensure prevention of its abuse.
Palliative care needs to be recognized as a discipline in its own right and to be integrated better with any cancer control programme, including funding support & training of health workers.
Dr Jyotirup Goswami
MD, DNB, PDCR
Consultant – Radiotherapy
NH Westbank Health & Wellness Institute, Howrah