World Cancer Day

A light blue background and some black letters that say "1 out of 6 deaths is caused by cancer".

Today is # WorldCancerDay, and I believe cancer is one of those diseases in which we all know someone who has battled against it. It's one of those hated diseases, and just listening to the "c" word scares many of us. But I think we must talk about cancer, because between 30-50% of those deaths can be prevented.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Goal 3, is to reduce premature mortality by one third by "noncommunicable diseases", and cancer is one of them.

One of the ways to help prevent this illness is through screenings, which are an exam before the disease develops. Screening policies are a part of many public health and government strategies, especially in countries where cancer is most prevalent, and where screenings can capture the largest sick population, with a low level of error. For example, here in Chile, everyone over 50 should have a preventive colonoscopy, and if a close relative has had colorectal cancer, it should be done 10 years before the age at which the family member was diagnosed with cancer.

But we can also do something to help prevent cancer. Our health, before depending on policies, depends on us (this is not the case in all countries, consider countries with health emergencies, epidemics, etc.). But here in Chile, a lot can depend on us.

1. Tobacco is the most important risk factor for cancer (not just of the lungs). So please, stop smoking.

2. About one third of deaths from cancer are connected to 5 behaviors: high body mass index, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. What we need to do is clearer than water 💧.

3. There are infections that cause cancer, including Hepatitis B and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are vaccines for these viruses, and in Chile, both are a part of the National Immunization Plan.

4. Other ways to prevent cancer include avoiding ionizing radiation and ultraviolet light. And decreasing consumption of meat (and today is Monday! and Mondays are #MeatlessMonday).

One of the worrying things about cancer, is that 70% of cancers occur in low and middle income countries, where there are fewer tools to prevent and combat it. One of the things that fascinates me, is thinking beyond public health (generally confined to countries). I like to think about global health. A vision that seeks to improve health and achieve equity in health access, for all people, in all the world. So here we need to start thinking: How do we do it to achieve equity in health between countries with such different realities? And on a small scale... How do we equalize access to health among different social classes, in a context where those with more money, have greater access to health? These are key, hard questions, and they should be already solved. Probably, solutions are already there, but institutions and politicians may not want to hear, actions may seemingly counteract economic interests.

I hope that in the next years, with the socio-environmental crisis becoming more evident and serious, those who make decisions will wake up and listen to scientists, researchers and thinkers. And act accordingly.


Source of data: World Health Organization.