February 4 is celebrated as World Cancer Day each year. 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of World Cancer Day (the first World Cancer Day was celebrated in 2000), as well as the midway point of the three-year theme ‘I Am and I Will’.
‘I Am and I Will’ is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future.
This World Cancer Day, who are you and what will you do?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.
Approximately 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks:
- high body mass index,
- low fruit and vegetable intake,
- lack of physical activity,
- tobacco use, and
- alcohol use.
Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths.
Cancer causing infections, such as hepatitis and human papilloma virus (HPV), are responsible for up to 25% of cancer cases in low- and middle-income countries.
Late-stage presentation and inaccessible diagnosis and treatment are common. In 2017, only 26% of low-income countries reported having pathology services generally available in the public sector. More than 90% of high-income countries reported treatment services are available compared to less than 30% of low-income countries.
The economic impact of cancer is significant and is increasing. The total annual economic cost of cancer in 2010 was estimated at approximately US$ 1.16 trillion.
Only 1 in 5 low- and middle-income countries have the necessary data to drive cancer policy.
WHO warns that, if current trends continue, the world will see a 60% increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. The greatest increase (an estimated 81%) in new cases will occur in low- and middle-income countries, where survival rates are currently lowest.
This is largely because these countries have had to focus limited health resources on combating infectious diseases and improving maternal and child health, while health services are not equipped to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers. In 2019, more than 90% of high-income countries reported that comprehensive treatment services for cancer were available in the public health system compared to less than 15% of low-income countries.
WHO highlights a wide range of proven interventions to prevent new cancer cases. These include
- controlling tobacco use (responsible for 25% of cancer deaths),
- vaccinating against hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer,
- eliminating cervical cancer by vaccinating against HPV,
- screening and treatment,
- implementing high-impact cancer management interventions that bring value for money and
- ensuring access to palliative care including pain relief.
Cancer Signs and Symptoms
- Unusual lumps or swelling, which are often painless and may increase in size.
- Persistent cough, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing.
- Changes in bowel habits
- Needing to urinate urgently, more frequently, or being unable to go when you need to or experiencing pain.
- Unexpected bleeding from a natural orifice (vagina/ anus, etc.).
- Unexplained and unintentional weight loss over a short period.
- Fatigue, extreme tiredness and severe lack of energy.
- New mole or changes to an existing mole (size, shape, colour, etc.)
- Unexplained or ongoing pain or pain that comes and goes.
- Unusual breast changes in size, shape or feel, skin changes or pain.
- Feeling less hungry than usual for a prolonged period of time.
- A spot, sore, wound or ulcer that won’t heal.
- Heavy, drenching night sweats.
- Persistent or painful heartburn or indigestion.
Link to World Cancer Day website:
Link to WHO news release on reducing 7 million cancer deaths:
Link to WHO publication ‘Guide to cancer early diagnosis’:
Link to WHO Cancer fact sheet:
Link to ‘World Cancer Report: Cancer Research for Cancer Prevention’: