Alarmingly, the number of cancer sufferers is set to rise significantly in the coming years, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The report suggests that a “tidal wave” of cancer is approaching, and we should be extra vigilant in controlling the risk factors in the coming decades.
Cancer on the rise
The numbers in the report are startling. The annual number of cancer cases is expected to reach 24 million by 2035. Currently, around 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. That figure is projected to reach 19 million by 2025, 22 million by 2030 and 24 million by 2035. Sadly, it’s the developing world that’s going to bear the brunt of these extra cases.
Naivety regarding the risk factors, says the WHO, is contributing to this climbing figure. It’s the responsibility of law makers and policy makers, as well as tobacco and alcohol manufacturers, to make changes that promote awareness and decrease the consumption of unhealthy foods and substances.
Reducing the risks
One the editors of the WHO report, Dr Bernard Stewart from the University of New South Wales in Australia, said that prevention plays a crucial role in combating the threat of increased cancer cases across the world. Stewart argues that there are many aspects of human behaviour that we can change to reduce the risk of developing cancer, citing as an example some people’s habit of sunbathing until they’re “evenly cooked on either side”.
Another way that we can combat the rising risk, he says, is to modify the extent to which alcohol is available and promoted; this means rethinking how we package, label and advertise alcoholic products, as well as how they’re priced.
Aside from sun tanning and drinking, other risks factors that Dr Stewart identifies are:
- obesity and inactivity
- air pollution
- radiation from both the sun and medical scans
- delayed parenthood
- having fewer children
- not breastfeeding.
In a study conducted in the UK, one in every three people said that they believed cancer was due primarily to family history. In fact, only 10% of cancer cases are due to genetic inheritance. It’s estimated that Approximately a third of all common cancers (skin, lung, and breast) can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy diet, and staying physically active.
In South Africa, cancer is not one of the 25 chronic conditions for which medical aid providers are required to provide Prescribed Minimum Benefits. It really is up to us to be responsible with our health, and to be aware of what the risks are and how best to deal with them.
Although the chance of cancer cases rising to 22 million in the next two decades is troubling, it’s important to know that half of these cases may be avoided with proper education and lifestyle changes.