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   •   Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide: it accounted for 7.4 million deaths
       (around 13% of all deaths) in 2004.
   •   Lung, stomach, colorectal, liver, and breast cancer cause the most cancer deaths each
   •   The most frequent types of cancer differ between men and women.
   •   More than 30% of cancer deaths can be prevented.1
   •   Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer.
   •   Cancer arises from a change in one single cell. The change may be started by external
       agents and inherited genetic factors.

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the
body. Other terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms. One defining feature of
cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries,
and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs.
This process is referred to as metastasis. Metastases are the major cause of death from

Global burden of cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. The disease accounted for 7.4 million
deaths (or around 13% of all deaths worldwide) in 2004. The main types of cancer
leading to overall cancer mortality each year are:

   •   lung (1.3 million deaths/year)
   •   stomach (803 000 deaths)
   •   colorectal (639 000 deaths)
   •   liver (610 000 deaths)
   •   breast (519 000 deaths).

More than 70% of all cancer deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 12
million deaths in 2030.

The most frequent types of cancer worldwide (in order of the number of global
deaths) are:

   •   Among men - lung, stomach, liver, colorectal, oesophagus and prostate
   •   Among women - breast, lung, stomach, colorectal and cervical.

What causes cancer?

Cancer arises from one single cell. The transformation from a normal cell into a
tumour cell is a multistage process, typically a progression from a pre-cancerous
lesion to malignant tumours. These changes are the result of the interaction between a
person's genetic factors and three categories of external agents, including:
   •    physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation
   •    chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a
        food contaminant) and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant)
   •    biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria or parasites.

Some examples of infections associated with certain cancers:

   •    Viruses: hepatitis B and liver cancer, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer,
        and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Kaposi sarcoma.
   •    Bacteria: Helicobacter pylori and stomach cancer.
   •    Parasites: schistosomiasis and bladder cancer.

Ageing is another fundamental factor for the development of cancer. The incidence of
cancer rises dramatically with age, most likely due to a buildup of risks for specific
cancers that increase with age. The overall risk accumulation is combined with the
tendency for cellular repair mechanisms to be less effective as a person grows older.

Tobacco use, alcohol use, low fruit and vegetable intake, and chronic infections from
hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and some types of Human Papilloma
Virus (HPV) are leading risk factors for cancer in low- and middle-income countries.
Cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV, is a leading cause of cancer death among
women in low-income countries.

In high-income countries, tobacco use, alcohol use, and being overweight or obese are
major risk factors for cancer.

How can the burden of cancer be reduced?

Knowledge about the causes of cancer, and interventions to prevent and manage the
disease is extensive. Cancer can be reduced and controlled by implementing evidence-
based strategies for cancer prevention, early detection of cancer and management of
patients with cancer.

More than 30% of cancer could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk
factors, according to a 2005 study by international cancer collaborators1. Risk factors

   1.   tobacco use
   2.   being overweight or obese
   3.   low fruit and vegetable intake
   4.   physical inactivity
   5.   alcohol use
   6.   sexually transmitted HPV-infection
   7.   urban air pollution
   8.   indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.

Prevention strategies:

   •    increase avoidance of the risk factors listed above
   •    vaccinate against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV)
   •    control occupational hazards
   •    reduce exposure to sunlight
Early detection

About one-third of the cancer burden could be decreased if cases were detected and
treated early. Early detection of cancer is based on the observation that treatment is
more effective when cancer is detected earlier. The aim is to detect the cancer when it
is localized (before metastasis). There are two components of early detection efforts:

   •   Education to help people recognize early signs of cancer and seek prompt medical
       attention for symptoms, which might include: lumps, sores, persistent indigestion,
       persistent coughing, and bleeding from the body's orifices.
   •   Screening programmes to identify early cancer or pre-cancer before signs are
       recognizable, including mammography for breast cancer, and cytology (a "pap smear")
       for cervical cancer.

Treatment and care

   •   Treatment aims to cure, prolong life and improve quality of life for patients. Some of
       the most common cancer types, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal
       cancer, have high cure rates when detected early and treated according to best
       practice. Principal treatment methods are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
       Fundamental for adequate treatment is an accurate diagnosis through imaging
       technology (ultrasound, endoscopy or radiography) and laboratory (pathology)
   •   Relief from pain and other problems can be achieved in over 90% of cancer patients
       through palliative care. Effective ways exist to provide palliative care for patients and
       their families in low resource settings.

WHO response

In 2008, WHO launched its Noncommunicable Diseases Action Plan. The Cancer
Action Plan is currently under development.

WHO, other United Nations organizations and partners collaborate on international
cancer prevention and control to:

   •   Increase political commitment for cancer prevention and control;
   •   Generate new knowledge, and disseminate existing knowledge to facilitate the delivery
       of evidence-based approaches to cancer control;
   •   Develop standards and tools to guide the planning and implementation of interventions
       for prevention, early detection, treatment and care;
   •   Facilitate broad networks of cancer control partners at global, regional and national
   •   Strengthen health systems at national and local levels; and
   •   Provide technical assistance for rapid, effective transfer of best practice interventions to
       developing countries.

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