The World Health Organisation has stated that the globe is about to face a ‘tidal wave’ of cancer, and warned that people should focus on preventative methods, rather than treatments. The WHO also advised that restrictions should be placed on alcohol and sugar, and said that there was a ‘real need’ to concentrate on cancer prevention by tackling smoking, obesity and drinking.
According to statistics, 14 million people a year are diagnosed with cancer, but the WHO predicts that this will increase to 19 million by 2025, 22 million by 2030 and 24 million by 2035. The problem is that many people are quite ignorant about how diets and lifestyles affect your chances of being diagnosed with cancer, with the World Cancer Research Fund saying there was an “alarming” level of naivety concerning what you eat, drink and smoke and the effects on your body regarding cancer.
Chris Wild, the director of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, spoke to the BBC: “The global cancer burden is increasing and quite markedly, due predominately to the ageing of the populations and population growth. If we look at the cost of treatment of cancers, it is spiraling out of control, even for the high-income countries. Prevention is absolutely critical and it’s been somewhat neglected.”
According to the WHO’s World Cancer Report, major sources of cancers that could be prevented are:
- Obesity and inactivity
- Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans
- Air pollution and other environmental factors
- Delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding
Dr Bernard Stewart, an editor on the report and hailing from the University of New South Wales in Australia, said prevention had a “crucial role in combating the tidal wave of cancer which we see coming across the world”. He cited human behaviour as one of the major causes of contracting cancers, and illustrated a sunbathing ritual in his own native Australia where you lie out in the sun “until you’re cooked evenly on both sides” as an example of preventative behaviour.
He also spoke about the effects of other sources where the connection to cancer is not so readily apparent: “In relation to alcohol, for example, we’re all aware of the acute effects, whether it’s car accidents or assaults, but there’s a burden of disease that’s not talked about because it’s simply not recognised, specifically involving cancer. The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labeling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol – those things should be on the agenda.”
He likened alcohol to sugar, in that the effects of consuming too much sugar is known to relate to obesity and diabetes, but the risks where cancer is concerned is not as well known.
And in a survey on 2,046 people carried out on UK citizens by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), nearly half of respondents (49%) said that they did not realise the connection between diet and the risk of developing cancer. In fact, one third of respondents thought that cancer was down to genes or family history, but the WCRF stated that this was actually no more than 10%.
The General Manager for the WCRF – Andrea McClean said: “It’s very alarming to see that such a large number of people don’t know that there’s a lot they can do to significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer. In the UK, about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being regularly physically active. These results show that many people still seem to mistakenly accept their chances of getting cancer as a throw of the dice, but by making lifestyle changes today, we can help prevent cancer tomorrow.”
There are many ‘cancer prevention’ diets, but the advice from the WCRF is to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, with the addition of wholegrains, and to cut out junk food completely and minimise your consumption of red meat and alcohol.
Dr Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “The most shocking thing about this report’s prediction that 14 million cancer cases a year will rise to 22 million globally in the next 20 years is that up to half of all cases could be prevented. People can cut their risk of cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices, but it’s important to remember that the government and society are also responsible for creating an environment that supports healthy lifestyles.” She added: “It’s clear that if we don’t act now to curb the number of people getting cancer, we will be at the heart of a global crisis in cancer care within the next two decades.”