By Jacqui Drope, Managing Director, Global Tobacco Control, American Cancer Society
“Of all of the myths about cancer, I believe one of the most harmful misconceptions today is that cancer is a disease exclusive to wealthy, or developed, countries such as the United States. I use the term “harmful” because lack of awareness about the tremendous cancer burden facing countries around the world – both in terms of lives lost and economic consequences – means cancer death rates will continue to rise, and countries will continue to struggle economically. But that is if we as a global community do not recognize the enormity of this burden and take action.”
Cancer is both a cause and an outcome of poverty. Cancer negatively impacts families’ ability to earn an income with high treatment costs pushing them further into poverty. At the same time, poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare increases a person’s risk of getting cancer and dying from the disease.
In 2008, 55 percent of new cancer cases were reported in developing nations. Africa had about 715,000 new cancer cases and 542,000 cancer deaths. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), by 2030, these numbers are projected to nearly double (1.28 million new cancer cases and 970,000 cancer deaths), with the potential to be even higher because of the adoption of behaviors and lifestyles associated with economic development, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity. Click here to learn more about Cancer in Africa.
World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), provides us with the chance to raise our collective voices to improve knowledge around cancer and dispel misconceptions about the disease.
Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of cancer death, accounting for 20% of cancer deaths worldwide and for about 6% of cancer deaths in Africa. Although current prevalence of adult cigarette smoking is low in Africa, cigarette consumption is increasing in parts of this region because of the adoption of Western behaviors and aggressive marketing by tobacco companies that portray smoking as a stylish activity, particularly targeting youth and women. Smoking among youth in Africa is almost as high as and sometimes even higher than in adults.
Cigarette smoking not only increases the risk for lung cancer, it is also linked with an increased risk for 13 other types of cancer in the body. In addition to this health burden, tobacco use is closely related to poverty in developing nations. Families often have to sacrifice essential household expenditures such as food and education in order to afford tobacco.
While most African countries have signed the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), few have implemented tobacco control measures or policies according to the framework. This epidemic can be curbed by adopting and enforcing proven tobacco control strategies such as raising the price of tobacco products, banning the advertisement of tobacco products, and banning smoking in public and work places. These interventions can reverse the trend of rising tobacco use in Africa and save lives from tobacco-related cancer deaths.