World Cancer Day 2020
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Today for World Cancer Day (4th Feb every year, if you didn't know!) I want to tell you all about what today means and why it is important.
Worldwide, there are 17 million cases of cancer each year, and 9.6 million deaths from cancer. While survival rates are improving, and more people are surviving cancer for longer, the number of diagnoses and new cancers is growing each year. By 2030 the number of cancer-related deaths is expected to increase to 13 million. Cancer will almost definitely never be eradicated, and there is no one magical cure for all cancers (there are well over 200 different types, and more sub-types within those!). So, with more people living longer with cancer, a lot of work is needed to ensure everyone receives the best possible care, and is able to live their best possible life.
World Cancer Day is an opportunity for everyone, worldwide, to unite against cancer, and to bring worldwide attention to the disease, and 2020 is the 20th anniversary of the day! World Cancer Day was started by a group of leading cancer experts, who wanted to ensure that cancer was made a priority into the new century and millennium. 4th February 2000, the 'Charter of Paris Against Cancer' was signed and the day has since been a day to remember the key priorities for cancer, and the continued efforts to make a difference.
In light of this, I want to bring attention to cancer services around the world, because in the UK, although not perfect, we have privileged access to things like the NHS, free education, and massive charities like Cancer Research UK. Let's find out what it's like to be diagnosed with cancer elsewhere.
Here in the UK, cancer patients and families suffer with financial burdens, usually as a result of having to take leave from work, travelling to and from hospitals, and various other factors such as childcare. However, we all have access to our treatments, scans, hospital stays, physiotherapy, and even prescriptions (cancer patients get free prescriptions!) for free. Imagine being without the NHS and these 'benefits' (arguably not benefits, but simply human rights), on TOP of the normal cancer financial burdens. In the US, it is thought that overall cancer treatment can cost around $150,000. Average monthly cost of chemotherapy ranges from $1,000-12,000, radiotherapy can be around $9,000.* Cancer patients in the US are 2.5 times more likely to declare bankruptcy. Even when adequately insured (which over 40% of people are not), cancer costs still see people considerably out-of-pocket. Basically, if you live in the US, and receive a cancer diagnosis, you will probably end up in debt. Financial worries already prevent people from seeing a doctor in the first place, with a mere check-up costing upwards of $100. People with cancer are suffering enough, without the added stress of wondering whether their insurance is going to cover their treatment, or if they can afford it themselves.
On a more drastic note, in many African countries, cancer is nearly always fatal. Apparently around 20% of African countries have no access to cancer treatment at all. I quite often find myself saying that cancer is no longer a death sentence, however for many people in Africa it still is, and is in fact deadlier than malaria. 5-year female breast cancer relative survival rates are 46% in Uganda and 12% in The Gambia, compared with 90% in the United States, as a result of much later diagnoses in those countries.** Services are slowly improving, with Kenya taking some vital steps to making things better for cancer patients, for instance by ensuring medical insurance covers radiotherapy, surgery and some courses of chemotherapy, and by building more cancer hospitals.
Asia accounts for half of the global cancer burden, according to a NCBI report. With people living longer, cancer is becoming evermore present, being an ageing disease. There are huge differences in cancer services between rural and urban regions, with many people in those more rural areas often travelling to places like Hong Kong and Singapore to receive their treatments from more advanced cancer centres. China is often seen as being in the front-line of pioneering technologies, and biotechnology, stretching to cancer research. New treatments, such as immunotherapies and proton bean therapy, seem to be cropping up all the time in recent years, and China is keen on working on immunotherapy in particular (but the first person to use immunotherapy was an American surgeon!).
A recent study compared cancer care across 7 countries with similar health systems to the UK, and discovered that the UK is lagging behind, with Australia, Canada and Norway achieving higher survival rates. Improvement requires worldwide collaboration as well as investment on a more local scale. We can learn from other countries, and should work together on discovering new drugs and treatments, especially if we are going to reach that 3 in 4 survival goal by 2030!
I have had a lot of fun researching cancer around the world, and what I find most interesting is how difficult it is to find out information about how the services work in other countries! It is also fascinating how varied cancer incidence and survival is across the world, dependent on so many factors from lifestyle choices, the climate, pollution, ethnicity, and social class. It is clear that developing countries are lagging far behind in terms of access to proper treatments, and although some progress is being made, with the rapidly increasing cases of cancer, more needs to be done and faster. Now that so much is known about prevention, and ways of prolonging quality life with cancer, it is time that everyone is educated and has the resources to do what they can to have the best chance of leading a healthy life.
I hope this blog has taught you something new and if you want to help out this World Cancer Day, head to the official website to find out how. Or if you want to do something more simple - share this blog, or simply make a post about the day just to spread awareness about what it is.
Thanks for reading, and as part of my monthly challenge I am going to be blogging a lot this week, so watch this space!!
* U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018.
** Africa's Emerging Cancer Crisis: A Call to Action, 2017.
This year I am going to be taking on lots of random challenges, on top of running/swimming/cycling 500k over the year! This is all in support of Sarcoma UK, the national sarcoma charity that funds vital research and support for patients and their families affected by the rare cancer. If you want to support me, then you can donate whatever you can through this link. Even £1 would be greatly appreciated, and you can donate completely anonymously!! Thank you!