Contrary to what most people may think, cancer is not a disease due to bad genes or tough luck. By leading a health-promoting lifestyle, cancer can be prevented even if your genes predispose you to this dreadful disease. In fact, “Cancer can be prevented too” is exactly the message which International Union Against Cancer (UICC) tries to convey to the rest of the world.
In its message, the non-government organization reiterated the importance of simple lifestyle changes and other control measures in cancer prevention. Measures mentioned include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking, avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight and getting the appropriate vaccination. These changes, it said, can cut one’s risk of cancer by up to 40%.
Raising public’s awareness on cancers caused by infections is also one of the highlights in UICC’s message. According to its report, about 21% of the global cancer burden can be traced to viral and bacterial infections. The WHO has also put cancer deaths attributable to infections at 22% in the developing world and 6% in industrialized countries.
Nine types of cancer-causing infections were highlighted in UICC’s 56-page report, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C which are responsible for about 80% of liver cancer in the world.
Other virus in the report include the human papillomavirus which is believed to cause cervical cancer, the third most common cancer among women worldwide. But, cancers caused by infections can largely be prevented. That is why prevention, detection and treatment of cancer-causing infectious agents is now the focus of UICC. The “custodian” of the World Cancer Declaration, however, said that more needs to be done.
For example, more research needs to be conducted to identify unknown virus and understand how they cause cancer in humans. There is also a need to study how some virus like Helicobacter pylori which has co-existed with humans for thousands of years turn cancerous in some people and not in others. Only by understanding how virus and bacteria develop into malignant tumor can we develop better diagnosis and treatment, and take more targeted preventive measures.
There are also non-scientific hurdles that need to be cleared when it comes to the battle against cancer-inducing microorganisms. In the developing countries, poverty and the lack of quality public health care continue to contribute to the high incidence rates of cancer related to infections.
“Policy-makers around the world have the opportunity and obligation to use these vaccines to save people’s lives and educate their communities towards lifestyle choices and control measures that reduce their risk of cancer”, said Cary Adams, CEO of UICC.
Even in high-income populations where medical technology is affordable to most people, low disease awareness and limitation in health infrastructures also pose challenges to reducing global cancer burden attributable to infections. A good example is the huge gap between people who have been vaccinated against hepatitis B worldwide and those who have not.