To tackle the scourge of cancer that is spreading across the world will require taking both responsibility and action

Before we lecture poorer parts of the world on what they need to do in order to avoid the coming tsunami of cases, we should take a close look at our own behaviour

Share

Looked at in one way, the warning from the World Health Organisation of a tidal wave of cancer sweeping the globe over the next 20 years is good news. Cancer is a disease of old age – it means more of the world’s peoples are surviving long enough to get it. But while it is good to grow old (rather than die young) no one wants to die of cancer. Many cancers still kill people before their time. And cancer imposes an immense and growing burden on families, health systems and states. Hence the WHO’s alarm call.

The organisation estimates that the worldwide burden will rise by 70 per cent from 14 million cases in 2012 to 24 million in 2035, much of it borne by poorer countries. Of all the exports of the modern world, cancer is one of which we should feel least proud. Once a disease of rich countries it is now a global epidemic – and the Westernisation of traditional lifestyles is in large part to blame. Cigarettes, alcohol, fast food, sedentary lifestyles – all are fuelling its growth.

The rate of increase is so great and the disease so challenging that “treating our way out of the problem” is not an option, according to Dr Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Prevention is the key. More than 50 per cent of cancer cases could be avoided, he writes in the preface to the World Cancer Report 2014. The single most effective measure would be curbs on the tobacco industry, increasingly focusing its efforts on other parts of the world as its traditional markets in the West have shrunk.

One billion deaths from smoking are forecast in China alone this century. The State Council, or cabinet, plans to introduce a ban on smoking in public places this year. Whether it will be enforced is unclear – it is common to see people puffing away in front of no-smoking signs. Lung cancer is the commonest form of cancer in China – and the world. It accounts for almost one in five of all cancer deaths.

Although cancer is never good, not all cancers are the result of bad habits. Breast cancer has leapt 80 per cent in the UK since the 1970s, driven in part by a richer diet, smaller families and delayed childbearing. These are trends that have benefited women (while also exposing them to a greater risk of disease). Alcohol and obesity are also drivers of breast cancer – and here the benefits are questionable. Cancer is not a black and white issue – it is more complicated than that.

Before we lecture poorer parts of the world on what they need to do in order to avoid the coming tsunami of cases, we should take a close look at our own behaviour. We have known cancer is preventable for at least the past 30 years. Have we acted on it, here in the privileged West? Yes, smoking is down. But obesity? Alcohol consumption? Sedentary living? Overall, cancer incidence rates in the UK and similar countries have soared.

We are, once more, asking middle- and low-income countries to do as we say, not as we do. Having started this global epidemic we in the West have a duty to lead by example with moves to halt it. Yesterday’s Home Office announcement of a ban on the sale of ultra-cheap alcohol is a start. But there is much more we can do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test