Today is World Cancer Day, where those fighting cancer across the world come together to raise awareness of the disease, and what needs to be done so that the work can go on to beat it. As Theodore Roosevelt said ‘believe you can, and you’re half way there.’
Well I don’t know if we are half way there; there’s certainly been a lot of progress, but there’s a lot more to be done. Statistics published today reveal for the first time that cancer is the biggest cause of death worldwide, with 8.2 million people dying per year.
So the global cancer epidemic is huge and expected to rise. Cases of cancer are predicted to increase to 19.3 million by 2025 – about the populations of Sweden, Norway and Finland combined.
Leukaemia, the cancer that brought me into this fight when it killed both my best friend and his daughter, John and Ellie Merritt, was once a virtual death sentence for children. Now, thanks in large part to the research work done by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, nine out of ten children will be treated and will survive. But survival rates among adults have not improved so dramatically, so the work goes on to make sure they do.
Inevitably, given the harm cancer has done all over the world, the debates surrounding cancer tend to focus on the treatment to cure those who struck down by it. But this year World Cancer Day is also looking at how cancers can be prevented. Much has been done, and will continue to be done, by organisations like World Cancer Research Fund International to raise awareness of the fact that a healthy lifestyle – a nutritious diet, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight – can help prevent about a third of the most common cancers, and World Cancer Day is a great way of taking that forward. But there is also a huge amount of work being done in the research community to help people stopping getting cancer in the first place.
You might not think leukaemia and other blood cancers can be prevented. It’s certainly true that currently there aren’t the strong lifestyle links of other cancers, such as smoking and lung cancer, being overweight and bowel and breast cancer, or the many cancers in which excessive alcohol consumption can play a part.
However, there are groups of blood cancer patients where disease could be prevented. Fifteen per cent of patients with acute myeloid leukaemia develop the disease as a result of harsh treatment for a previous cancer. By funding research into these 15% of patients, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research hope to be able to stop these cancers from happening, which would mean 375 more people every year would be spared blood cancer all together.
Much has been done to advance our knowledge of cancer and get us closer to the day when it will no longer have such a dreadful impact on people’s lives, or be such a burden on health services. However there is still much to be done. This is why World Cancer Research Fund International are calling on world leaders to help prevent and control cancer by urgently implementing the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan on Non-Communicable Diseases to achieve the 25 x 25 target: a 25% reduction in premature deaths from non communicable diseases, including cancer, globally by 2025. To help countries implement the Plan, World Cancer Research Fund International has developed a framework to make clear where countries should be taking action.
World Cancer Day is also a good day to think about what we, as individuals, can do in our own lives and lifestyles to be and feel healthier. And if that includes any desire to get fit by running, swimming or cycling, then I hope I can be allowed, as captain of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research’s triathlon team, a plug for their many fundraising sports events – a great opportunity to start living a healthier life, and raise crucial funds for life saving research at the same time.