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Cancer: the developing world’s silent killer

Although HIV/Aids, TB and Malaria make more international headlines, a major killer in the world’s poorest countries is Cancer.

Two thirds of the 7.6 million people who die of Cancer every year, come from developing countries.

Forty years ago, only 15 per cent of Cancer cases reported were from poorer countries. But by 2008, that proportion had climbed to 56 per cent. Forecasts indicate it will hit the 70 per cent mark by 2030.

Rising Cancer rates in the world’s poorest counties are put down to bigger populations, with more old people and fewer deaths from infectious diseases. And survival rates for certain types of Cancers, such as cervical, breast and testicular cancer, have a direct link to how rich or poor the country is.

Greater awareness about the illness as well as more widely available low-cost treatments means that the number of cases in western countries has dropped since the 1990s.

Leading cancer and global health experts are now calling for new plans to tackle cancer in poor countries. Writing this week in the medical journal The Lancet, they highlight the huge gap in the standards of cancer treatment across developing nations.

A key issue, the writers say, is the lack of affordable access to treatment in poorer countries, which makes it essential to tackle the major risk factors, for example through hard-hitting anti-tobacco campaigns, education about early detection and screening, and programmes to push healthy eating in poor countries where obesity has become a problem.

In poor countries without specialised services, a lot can be done to prevent and treat cancer by using primary and secondary caregivers, off-patent drugs, and regional and global mechanisms for financing and sourcing, experts say in the journal. “Several middle-income countries have included cancer treatment in national health insurance coverage with a focus on people living in poverty,” they say. “These strategies can reduce costs, increase access to health services and strengthen health systems to meet the challenge of cancer and other diseases.

Cancer is and has been relatively neglected in developing countries,” says The International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research. “This stems from the fact that cancer is a particularly complex health problem which consumes extensive resources. This acts as a disincentive in poor countries and international agencies to address it; available resources often remain insufficient to deal with the most basic public health issues, such as a clean water supply, adequate diet, and the control of major infections."

Hayley attribution