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Cancer as a Death Sentence and Other Myths Dispelled

By Zosia Chustecka
Medscape Medical News

Feb. 4, 2013 -- The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is trying to counteract the myths that cancer is a death sentence and a disease of the wealthy, the elderly, and developed countries.

In fact, more than half of the deaths from cancer (55%) happen in the less-developed regions of the world. By 2030, it is expected that around 60% to 70% of all new cancer cases will happen in developing countries, the UICC notes.

This point is also emphasized by the World Health Organization (WHO), which notes that two-thirds of new cancer cases and deaths happen in developing countries, where cancer incidence "continues to increase at alarming rates."

Preventing Cancer

About a third of all cancer deaths are due to risk factors that people can change, such as not using tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking in moderation, and avoiding infections, according to the WHO.

In addition, many cancers can be prevented with life-saving interventions, such as cervical cancer screening, and with vaccination against diseases such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV). The early detection of many cancers, including breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, can also result in successful cures.

"Cancer should not be a death sentence anywhere in the world, as there are proven ways to prevent and cure many cancers," Oleg Chestnov, MD, assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases and mental health at the WHO, says in a prepared statement.

A recent survey conducted by the WHO found that more than half the countries in the world are struggling to prevent cancer and to provide treatment and chronic care to cancer patients. There is an "urgent need to help countries reduce cancer deaths, provide appropriate long-term treatment and care, and avoid human suffering," according to the WHO.

The WHO is funding a program to set up cancer registries in many developing countries, which will provide information on the cancer burden and help governments plan their prevention and treatment strategies.

The American Society for Clinical Oncology announced plans to expand the scope of its international programs and to double its funding "to help address the growing global cancer burden." These programs involve providing oncology instruction for non-specialists, offering mentoring, and providing grants for research into cancer-control strategies in developing countries.

Myth of Personalized Medicine

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) announced that it is supporting World Cancer Day by dispelling another myth about cancer: that personalized medicine is "already a reality for all cancer types and all cancer patients."

"Personalized medicine is the dream of every oncologist and the legitimate expectation of every cancer patient," says ESMO President Martine Piccart, MD, PhD.

The aim is to treat patients with therapies targeted at specific tumor characteristics. Some notable successes, such as targeted therapy for HER2-receptor breast cancer, have revolutionized treatment, but "we are not yet in the era of personalized oncology," she says.

"Oncologists have a double duty: to raise awareness of the current achievements of targeted therapies, their high potential, and the necessary requirements, and to guide their patients in seeking out clinical trials where their tumors can be better profiled so that they can gain access to novel treatments," Piccart says.

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SOURCES: Press release, the Union for International Cancer Control. Press release, World Health Organization. Press release, the European Society for Medical Oncology. © 2013 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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