Changing the course of cancer history

More than 500 world leaders, non-governmental organisations, corporation representatives and individual advocates gathered this week at the Livestrong Global Cancer Summit at the RDS in Dublin.

The three-day event aimed to ‘change the course of cancer in history’ by providing a platform for world leaders to create a sustained movement to fight cancer.

The summit is an initiative of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF), designed to address the global cancer burden. Founded and chaired by world-famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, the LAF is aimed at raising awareness, funding research and ending the stigma of cancer that many survivors face.

“Cancer will be the leading cause of death next year unless we act on a global level,” said Mr Armstrong. “Our goal is to be the catalyst that brings everyone together to fight cancer - from survivors, like me, to advocates from the farthest reaches of the globe, to world leaders and policy makers who must commit completely to the effort to avoid a public health catastrophe.”

On Monday, the summit saw the launch of the first report detailing the global burden of cancer in economic terms. Breakaway: The global burden of cancer – challenges and opportunities estimates that the total economic burden of new cancer cases cost the global economy $305 billion in 2009. The report calls for world leaders to make new investments in cancer control.

Cancer is the second largest cause of death around the world, and the report points out that it could move to the top spot next year. It is believed that there will be 12.9 million new cancer cases this year, and the number is on the increase. By 2020, the figure will be 16.8 million.

Cancer rates all over the world are on the increase, especially in developing countries. More than half of new cancer cases and nearly two-thirds of cancer deaths occur in the developing world. Most cancer cases in the developing world are caught too late, with as many as 80% described as incurable. In spite of this, the vast majority of money spent on cancer services are invested in developed countries.

The report stresses that in spite of the challenges, there is room for optimism. Cancer is the most preventable of all chronic diseases and the quality of life of cancer patients has vastly improved in the last decade, it says.

The report concludes that every government should develop and adopt a national cancer plan, that funding for cancer research and prevention should be prioritised as a public health investment, and that efforts to reduce stigma of cancer patients and survivors should be made.

Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling was credited by LAF President and CEO Doug Ulman as the reason behind the foundation’s ability to maintain its funding and create the opportunities it has made.

Lance Armstrong returned to cycling earlier this year after a four-year absence. Mr Armstrong previously battled testicular cancer, which spread to his brain, abdomen and lungs, before coming back to win the Tour de France a record seven years in a row.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation was set up in 1997 to make cancer a national priority in the US. To date, it has raised US $310 million. More than 85% of the money raised goes into programmes to support survivors.

Last year, with the support of former US President Bill Clinton, the foundation decided to make its Livestrong cancer awareness campaign a global event.

Mr Armstrong said that the burden of cancer has always been a personal one. It affects everyone, whether it is their mothers, fathers, grandparents or children, he said.

The Tobacco Atlas

On Tuesday the summit unveiled the 2009 edition of The Tobacco Atlas, revealing that tobacco use kills an estimated six million people a year and costs the global economy $500 billion annually.

The Atlas gives a complete overview of the global effects of tobacco. It reveals the prevalence and consumption of tobacco, the health risks and mortality associated with it, the economic costs of tobacco, gives health and quitting information, and advises on the future of the epidemic.

The Atlas describes Ireland as among the world leaders in tobacco control, confirming that Ireland and the UK are among the countries with the strongest tobacco control policies, delivering both economic and health benefits.

Ireland has ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), banned smoking in workplaces, increased tobacco tax, implemented effective mass media campaigns and advertising restrictions. Irish people who want to quit smoking receive subsidised access to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and certain clinical cessation services. Furthermore, one year after the implementation of the 2004 smoking ban, cigarette sales declined by 18%.

However, the Atlas also revealed that the Irish economy lost US$980 million (€686 million) in 2007 because of tobacco use. The economic costs emerged as a result of lost productivity, misused resources, missed opportunities for taxation, and premature death. Because one in four smokers die and many more become ill during their most productive years, income loss devastates families and communities, according to the Atlas.

According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than two million cancer deaths per year will be attributable to tobacco by 2015. Most people who die from tobacco-related illnesses are now in low and middle-income countries, because of major increases in tobacco production in the developing world.

At the launch of the Atlas, Mr Armstrong was asked what one thing he would choose to focus on to reduce cancer rates if he had to. Mr Armstrong wrote his response in an article in USA Today: “That’s easy: tobacco. It’s the only product that, if used as directed, will kill you. One third of all cancer deaths are attributed to this drug.”

“One hundred million people were killed by tobacco in the 20th century and if we do nothing, another billion lives will be lost in the 21st,” he continued. “We know that tobacco kills. We need to bridge this gap by educating people around the globe about the dangers of tobacco and do all we can to stop the use of the products.”

© Copyright: Irishhealth

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