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Director of IARC: We need to act now to stop cancer

19 Feb 2013

“In twenty years’ time we will see 20 million new cases of cancer every year”, says Dr. Chris Wild, the director of the WHO International Agency for Cancer Research, (IARC) on his visit to Finland. The increase from today’s 12.5 million new cases every year is mainly being driven by population growth and ageing. The growing cancer incidence will however hit lower income countries harder, where the health services are least-equipped to deal with the growing burden.

“While historically cancers of the liver, cervix and stomach have been common in the low-resourced countries, we now see cancers of the breast, prostate and colon increasing”, Dr. Wild says. These cancers have been linked with unhealthy lifestyles and with the fact that people are having fewer children and at a later age.  As the cancers associated with chronic infections still exist, it is obvious that these countries have a double burden.

Dr. Chris Wild, WHO/IARC

Our task is to raise awareness and introduce the benefits of prevention

To help low income countries deal with the severe future outlook, a few things can be done, according to Dr. Wild. The IARC, for example, supports the development of cancer registers in these countries to help governments become aware of the scale of the problem.

In terms of prevention, good vaccines already exist against infection-related cancers.  Screenings for early detection can be arranged even in many low income countries.

As for cancers related to unhealthy lifestyles, the most important steps are to avoid the known risk factors, such as tobacco use or obesity.

“We should work with governments to advocate the importance of right decisions”, Chris Wild says, “and also try to prevent the tobacco industry from further introducing tobacco into many of these countries”.

The next step is to translate knowledge into action

To gain the full benefit of what we know of prevention, we need more applied practical research. Population trials give information on which interventions are best, but what is really missing, according to Dr. Wild, is how the knowledge gained is implemented into health services.

The challenge, also in the resourced countries, is to make funding agencies, governments and NGOs see that supporting prevention research is a long-term investment. For example the Human Papilloma Virus vaccinations will affect cervical cancer rates only after 40 years. Somebody must have the vision to say that we need to act now.

In Finland Dr. Wild met with THL’s Director General Pekka Puska, who is the long-standing chairman of the IARC Governing Council, and other key experts. He also met with key leaders at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Institute of Occupational Health, as well as the Finnish Cancer Registry.

International Agency for Cancer Research

Updated 19 Feb 2013