Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

World Cancer Day aims to 'dispel myths' about the disease

iv, chemo

Phil and Pam Gradwell/Flickr Creative Commons

A patient undergoes part of a chemotherapy treatment. For World Cancer Day 2013, the Union for International Cancer Control is focusing on four myths in particular, including the idea that cancer is a death sentence.

It's World Cancer Day, and this year organizers are focused on dispelling four myths about the disease:

1. It's just a health issue.

2. It's a disease that primarily affects the wealthy, elderly and residents of developed countries.

3. It's a death sentence.

4. It's "fate."

In a statement on Monday, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the event's main organizer, said 1.5 million lives could be saved annually if health experts, researchers and advocates aggressively push for achievement of the World Health Organization's "25 by 25" goal: to reduce early deaths caused by non-communicable diseases by 25 percent by the year 2025.

Right now, cancer claims about 7.6 million lives worldwide every year; 4 million of those people die between the ages of 30 and 69. The latest data from Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health says in the county, there are about 35 lung cancer deaths, 21 breast cancer deaths, 3 cervical cancer deaths and 15 colorectal cancer deaths for every 100,000 people.

In South L.A., all of those numbers are noticeably higher: For every 100,000 people, the southside sees nearly 42 lung cancer deaths, 27 breast cancer deaths, 5 cervical cancer deaths and 21 colorectal cancer deaths.

Experts believe that 6 million worldwide will die prematurely due to cancer by 2025.

In response to the four cancer myths, the UICC noted the following:

1. Besides its health implications, cancer is a social, economic, development and human rights issue. More than half of cancer deaths occur in "less developed regions of the world," and if current trends continue, cancer cases are predicted to increase by a whopping 81 percent in developing countries by 2030. The disease is "both a cause and an outcome of poverty," wrote the organization, and "is threatening further improvements in women's health and gender equality": About 750,000 deaths a year are due to cervical and breast cancer alone.

2. Cancer is a "global epidemic." The disease affects people across the board, regardless of age or socioeconomic status. But there are disparities: The UICC says more than 99 percent of "untreated and painful" deaths take place in developing countries. Conversely, 90 percent of the global consumption of opioid analgesics, a painkiller used to treat cancer pain, takes place in the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several European countries.

3. Many cancers that were once considered death sentences can now be treated effectively. There are a few exceptions, wrote the UICC, but early-stage cancers "are less lethal and more treatable" than their late-stage counterparts. Even better, the "cost of interventions does not have to be prohibitively expensive," which is good news for less wealthy countries. About 12 million Americans live with the disease.

4. Cancer is preventable. Policies and programs that "promote healthy lifestyles" and control cancer risk factors – alcohol abuse, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity – can go a long way toward preventing the disease. As far as developing countries, wrote the UICC, vaccines will prove crucial.

The theme of this year's World Cancer Day aligns with the fifth prong of the World Cancer Declaration – to "dispel damaging myths and misconceptions" about the disease.

Photo by Phil and Pam Gradwell via Flickr Creative Commons.

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