Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo - World Cancer Day 2013

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Today, 4 February 2013, we join the rest of world in commemorating World Cancer Day under the theme: ‘Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer’. The theme draws attention to the crucial need to improve awareness and knowledge about cancer and its risk factors to better protect individuals and communities. The tagline chosen for this day 'Cancer - Did you know?’ highlights perfectly the important role of education in cancer control.

Cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells within any part of the human body continuously grow out of control. The chances of developing most cancers is related to modifiable risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, overweight and some chronic infections. It is advisable to live a healthy lifestyle to prevent the onset of the disease.

Cancer is a real public health problem that kills many people in the African Region. It is estimated that about 12.4% of African Region’s 804 million inhabitants will develop cancer before the age of 75. The risk increases with age while 90% of cancer cases will occur after the age of 40. If we act now we can save about 100,000 lives annually by 2020.

Unfortunately there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about cancer and we need to know the truth to better protect ourselves. Cancer is not caused by an injury, such as a bump or a bruise. Cancer is not contagious. Although infections by certain viruses or bacteria may increase the risk of some types of cancer, no one can get cancer from another person. It is important to know the real facts about cancer prevention and control.

Many people in the Region do not know that they have cancer until it is at advanced stages due to the lack of awareness and the weakness of early diagnostic capacities in our countries. There is growing evidence that about 40% of all cancer deaths can be prevented if diagnosed early. Indeed a vast majority of patients survive the disease because of early diagnosis and available advanced treatment methods.

I call on people and communities to learn more and be better informed as this is the key to reducing the chances of developing and dying from the disease.

As we commemorate World Cancer Day, I call on all Ministers of Health to strengthen capacities for screening, early diagnosis and treatment for cancers.

Governments and development partners have a shared responsibility to raise awareness to dispel myths and misconceptions and to foster changes in lifestyles and behaviours related to cancer risk factors.

Thank you.