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World Cancer Day: Together, All Our Actions Matter!
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World Cancer Day: Together, All Our Actions Matter!

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Highlights:
  • 4th February is celebrated as World Cancer Day every year across the globe
  • Raises cancer awareness among the masses
  • Aims to reduce the global burden of cancer
  • Stresses that cancer can now be effectively prevented, treated, and even cured

World Cancer Day is celebrated every year on 4th February across the globe. This year is the 21st Anniversary of World Cancer Day, which began its journey in 2000. Each year, the celebrations are organized by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

Incidentally, UICC is the world's first international cancer organization. UICC spearheads international advocacy and capacity building campaigns that help unite all stakeholders with the common goal of reducing the global burden of cancer. Since its establishment in 2000, World Cancer Day has made great strides in creating public awareness about cancer, expediting cancer research, developing new innovative treatments, empowering people, and generating stronger political will.

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World Cancer Day: Together, All Our Actions Matter!

The credit goes to the World Health Organization (WHO) for including cancer under the category of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and designating it as one of the top ten health priorities of the 21st century. The categorization of cancer as an NCD has catapulted its importance among the global health community.

Aims and Objectives of World Cancer Day

The major aims of World Cancer Day include the following:
  • Generation of awareness about cancer
  • Reduction of the global burden of cancer
  • Promotion of equity regarding equal access to affordable cancer care
  • Prioritization of cancer on the global health agenda

History of World Cancer Day

The World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium, held on 4th February 2000 in Paris, France, saw the birth of World Cancer Day. During this Summit, the Charter of Paris on Cancer was drafted. This is a landmark document that prioritizes access to quality cancer care, expedites cancer research funding, promotes cancer awareness, and supports cancer patients for leading a better quality of life. This Charter was signed on 4th February 2000 by then President of France, Jacques Chirac and then Director-General of UNESCO, Koichio Matsuura. The directives of this Charter has since been adopted by all leading international cancer organizations across the world.

World Cancer Day Theme

The World Cancer Day Theme for the past three years (2019-2021) has been 'I Am and I Will'. Therefore, 2021 is the final year of the 'I Am and I Will' Theme. The past three years have provided a great opportunity to generate global public awareness about this disease through numerous events to bring about a lasting impact on society. This worldwide campaign calls out to all global citizens to take action to weed-out this scourge from the face of the planet.

The A-B-C of Cancer

Cancer is a disease that can strike anyone at any time. The underlying cause is a sudden change (mutation) in the genes of cells, which results in their rapid multiplication. These transformed cells are said to be cancerous, as they acquire the ability to spread to nearby tissues and kill them. Sometimes, they can travel to distant sites in the body to cause disease in those previously unaffected tissues and organs. This process is technically termed metastasis.

Types: Cancers are named according to the site or organ that becomes affected. Some cancers are simply termed according to the organ that is affected. For example, lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer are among the others. However, some cancers have special names. A few examples are listed below:
  • Cancer of the muscles - Sarcoma
  • Cancer of the white blood cells (WBC) - Leukemia
  • Cancer of the lymphocytes that confer immunity - Lymphoma
  • Cancer of the bones - Osteosarcoma
  • Cancer of the various brain cells - Glioblastoma, astrocytoma, meningioma
  • Cancer of the retina (light-sensing layer) of the eye - Retinoblastoma
  • Cancer of the epithelial (surface) layer of the skin - Epitheliomas
Causes: The various causes of cancer can be broadly classified as "modifiable" and "non-modifiable" factors. The modifiable factors can be altered by behavioral changes e.g., tobacco use, alcohol intake, diet type, sedentary lifestyle, weight gain, and radiation exposure, among others. The non-modifiable factors include heredity, age, and immune status, among others
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Treatments: The various types of treatment for cancer include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, and stem cell therapy

Cancer: Key Facts & Figures

  • Cancer can affect anyone at any time
  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide
  • 17 people die every minute from cancer worldwide
  • 9.6 million people die from cancer every year worldwide
  • 1 in 6 deaths are due to cancer worldwide
  • Tobacco is the leading cause of cancer worldwide
  • 22 percent of cancer deaths arise from tobacco use
  • 3.7 million lives could be saved every year by early detection and treatment
  • 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)
  • 25 percent of cancer cases in LMICs are due to viral infections (HBV and HPV)
  • 87 percent of cancer cases occur above the age of 50 years
  • A third of all common cancers are preventable
  • USD 1.16 trillion is the annual economic cost of cancer worldwide

Ways to Celebrate World Cancer Day in the Time of COVID-19

There are many virtual ways to celebrate World Cancer Day, even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these are briefly highlighted below:
  • Organizing Virtual Events: Various types of virtual events, including Zoom parties, can be organized to celebrate World Cancer Day
  • Webinars: Renowned oncologists could be invited to give popular talks on cancer via webinars organized on platforms such as Google Meet. This will greatly help to generate cancer awareness, especially among the student community, who have now become computer savvy through online education during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Lighting-Up in 'Orange & Blue': Famous landmarks, monuments, and buildings can be lit-up in 'Orange & Blue', which are the awareness colors for World Cancer Day. In past years, Niagara Falls, Geneva's Jet d'eau, and Stockholm's Kaknäs TV Tower have been lit-up
  • Social Media Campaigns: Social media can be judiciously used to spread the message about cancer far and wide. Cancer survivors can convey their personal stories, experiences, and challenges they faced in their battle against the deadly disease
  • Spreading the Word: Cancer awareness can be spread among the masses by writing articles for newspapers, newsletters, personal websites, and blogs. Also, video messages can be posted on YouTube to effectively spread the word
  • Wearing 'Orange & Blue': Wearing 'Orange & Blue' colored awareness ribbons, wrist bands, lapel pins, caps, T-shirts, and other apparel will not only show solidarity for cancer patients but also generate funds for their wellbeing

Cancer: Key Challenges and Ways to Overcome Them

  • Misinformation & Disinformation: Just like the misinformation/disinformation being circulated about the COVID-19 pandemic, similarly, the spread of myths and misinformation about cancer must also be dealt with an iron fist
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Sedentary lifestyle is already a huge problem in modern-day society. On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled many people to work-from-home, which will add to the problem. Moreover, unhealthy habits, such as tobacco use, heavy drinking, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise are other impacting factors. Institution of behavioral changes that embrace a healthy lifestyle is the right way to fight cancer
  • Inequity in Access to Cancer Care: Inequities in cancer care, including access to effective and affordable life-saving treatments, must be reduced at all costs. Inequity is a major issue, especially in LMICs, where huge gaps in socioeconomic status exist. Finding ways to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots is of paramount importance to alleviate inequities in cancer care
  • Accountability & Transparency Issues: Lack of accountability and transparency among program officers significantly delays the implementation of public health programs, including those associated with cancer control. Implementation of stringent laws to stamp out professional malpractice is of the essence for the smooth running of health programs
  • Mental Health Issues: Cancer doesn't just impact physical health, but mental health too. Its dramatic impact on mental and emotional wellbeing is often overlooked. Hence, a comprehensive cancer care plan that also embraces mental health and wellbeing should be implemented
  • Financial Burden: Cancer presents a huge financial burden on patients, their families, and the healthcare system at large, which has its negative ramifications. Hence, focusing on preventive measures, such as early detection through cancer screening camps could save huge amounts of money on costly cancer treatments down the line
  • Lack of Trained Healthcare Workers: Currently, there is a huge lack of trained medical personnel, not just limited to doctors and nurses, but also paramedical and other ancillary staff. This skills gap is a huge challenge in providing quality cancer care services. Revamping the medical education system will produce more numbers of trained doctors and nurses, which will significantly help to fill the existing lacuna

Health Tips for Preventing Cancer

Here are six healthy living tips to keep cancer at bay:
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: It is important to eat a healthy diet, be physically active, and maintain a healthy weight. It is scientifically proven that being overweight or obese predisposes to various types of cancer, including bowel, breast, gallbladder, pancreatic, ovarian, uterine, esophageal, and kidney cancers
  • Limit Alcohol Intake: The daily intake of alcohol should be limited to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. This is because it has been established that excessive alcohol consumption is linked to several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, and bowel
  • Quit Tobacco: Tobacco accounts for 22 percent of all cancer deaths, which is the highest among all-cause cancer deaths. Various options are now available that help to quit tobacco products, including nicotine chewing gums/patches, counseling, and self-motivational strategies
  • Avoid Exposure to UV Radiation: The major cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Avoiding unnecessary exposure to sunlight, wearing full-sleeved shirts, full trousers, hats, and sunglasses are effective ways for reducing the risk of skin cancer. Using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above will also help prevent skin cancer
  • Be Aware of Air Pollutants: As per WHO data, environmental pollutants are responsible for 19 percent of cancer cases. Air pollution is an important environmental risk factor for lung cancer. This underscores the importance of wearing facemasks
  • Take Precautions Against Cancer-causing Viruses: Research has established that chronic infections account for 16 percent of all cancers worldwide. Liver cancer and cervical cancer are both caused by viral infections. The former is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), while the latter is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines are available for both diseases, which can protect against the respective viruses
In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, including cancer patients. So, this year let's celebrate what we've achieved over the years, as well as look forward to what we can achieve in the coming years. Remember, although we face the COVID-19 challenge, we can't forget cancer!

References:
  1. Cancer: Key Facts - World Health Organization - (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer)
  2. World Cancer Day: 4 February - (https://www.worldcancerday.org/)
  3. Six Healthy Living Tips for World Cancer Day - Cancer.Net - (https://www.cancer.net/blog/2015-02/6-healthy-living-tips-world-cancer-day)
  4. Understanding Cancer: Key Issues - (https://www.worldcancerday.org/key-issues)


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