CANCER is a bigger killer in developing countries than tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS combined and a â€œtsunamiâ€ of the disease threatens to overwhelm the nations worst equipped to cope.
This is contained in a report on cancer in poorer countries, which was launched at the ECCO-ESMO European Cancer Congress in Berlin recently.
While only about 5% of the global
resources for cancer are spent in developing countries, the report said, the burden of the disease is far greater there, with 60% of last yearâ€™s 7.6 million cancer deaths occurring in poorer nations.
â€œWomen-specific cancers like breast and cervical cancer, which account for more than a quarter of all female deaths worldwide, could be dramatically cut in low and middle-income nations by improving awareness and detection, said Anne Reeler, who launched the report.
Reeler noted that while experts gathered in Berlin to discuss ground breaking and often highly expensive medical advances that may help cancer sufferers in the rich world and poorer nations have almost no access to even the most basic treatments.
â€œIn Ethiopia, for instance, what we often find is that by the time women come to a clinic, they literally have a tumour protruding through the breast,â€ she said.
â€œTheyâ€™ve spent two years going to see traditional healers and using holy water and when they come to clinics it is too late to do anything for them.
â€œSo awareness â€” getting rid of the myth that cancer kills and you can do nothing about it â€” is important.â€
Oncology experts expect a doubling of cancer cases across the world in the next 20 years and estimate that more than half of the 12.4 million new cases in 2008 occurred in low and middle income countries, a pattern predicted to continue.
David Kerr, a contributor to the report by a international cancer working group called CanTreat and a professor of cancer medicine at Britainâ€™s Oxford University, said this was a â€œwake-up callâ€ for those concerned about the developing world.
The CanTreat experts say the changing lifestyles, ageing populations, urbanisation and infections all played a part in the rise in cancer.
The CanTreat report called on governments in developed nations to work with pharmaceutical and healthcare industries on new ideas for improving access to cancer medicines and diagnostics, including deals to cut drug prices.
The experts also urged health authorities in low and middle-income countries to improve education to encourage women to recognise possible signs of the disease and act quickly and without fear of stigma if they suspect they are ill.
â€œCancer in developing countries now is like cancer in â€˜richâ€™ countries 30 years ago â€” there was little that could be done and people were dying stigmatised,â€ said Joseph Saba, another CanTreat member. â€œThe difference is that now we know what to do. Then we didnâ€™t.â€
CanTreat called for more funds and focus to be targeted towards preventing and treating the disease in poorer nations. The following are some key facts from the report:
Cancer kills more people each year in low and middle-income countries than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
More than half of all new cancer cases and almost two-thirds of cancer deaths in 2008 occurred in low and middle-income countries.
In 2007, there were an estimated 464,854 breast cancer deaths worldwide, of 255,576 were in the developing world.
Around 80% of cancer patients in the poorer regions of the world are not seen until their disease is advanced.
Late-stage breast cancer is up to nine times more costly to treat than the early disease and the outcomes much poorer.
In 2007 there were an estimated 555,094 new cases of cervical cancer and an estimated 309,808 deaths from the disease worldwide.
More than 85% of global deaths from cervical cancer occur in the developing world, where it is the leading cause of cancer death among women.
Cancer threatens poor nations