World Cancer Day 2014: Debunk the Myths!

According to Globocan‘s estimates (based on WHO’s 2008 data), there was more than 14 million new cases of cancer in 2012, which lead to over 8.2 million deaths, making cancer one of the most common and deadly diseases. February 4th is the one day in a year when we shine the spotlight on cancer in general, when we remember all who were taken from us, and think of new and better ways of treating or, better yet, preventing cancer from  occurring in the first place.

The myths

Just as last year, this year’s World Cancer Day is focuses on mistaken yet widespread beliefs that are still prevalent in our societies – beliefs that can be deadly! The four myths are:

  1. We don’t need to talk about cancer
  2. There are no signs or symptoms of cancer
  3. There is nothing I can do about cancer
  4. I don’t have the right to cancer care

The links will take you to a fantastic collection of facts, figures and advocacy goals compiled by the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control) that host the website.

The right to health

Although all four myths are extremely important and need to be uprooted, I would like to focus on the last one – perhaps the most society-specific and thus the most pernicious of beliefs – the belief that there is no right to cancer care. It is also an alien myth for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in both a resource rich setting and in a society that believes that each citizen – regardless of their economic or social standing – deserves to have some of those resources spent on improving their health and preventing disease.

But what about low- or middle-income countries, where an efficient health care system is but a pipe dream. Where lack of access to (health) education leads to unacceptably low awareness of preventative measures against and early signs and symptoms of cancer. Where a diagnosis of cancer forces people to make daily choices between purchasing food for their families or treatment for themselves. All of these considerations lead to a shameful gap in cancer prevention and treatment outcomes between developed and developing countries: 85% of women who die every year from cervical cancer are from developing countries. These populations need more support to develop economically, socially and politically and with their population’s health in mind! The current system simply perpetuates inequality and keeps the so-called ‘bottom billion’ in a perpetual vicious cycle of poverty and illness.

But economic development (or lack thereof) is not the only factor that keeps many cancer patients from the treatment they deserve. “Differences in occupation, gender, ethnicity and in particular education, are also linked with common cancer risk factors e.g. poor nutrition, tobacco use and second-hand smoke, and harmful use of alcohol, regardless of the resource setting,” writes the UICC. Perversely, even in high income countries, lack of health insurance can keep the immigrants, the unemployed and other marginalized groups from getting the help they need.

Get involved!

Cancer prevention and treatment cannot be reserved for the rich and the fortunate! Not with millions afflicted and not with the millions that die each year.

If the above statement sums up your thinking (as it does mine), there are ways of getting involved. As EMSAi, you can:

  • share the information from the website over social media and like the WCD FB page
  • spread the WCD posters and postcards in your faculty and your city
  • use the WCD badge on your profile pic
  • sign the 2013 World Cancer Declaration
  • organize an event at your faculty – a roundtable discussion or a lecture –  on cancer and the surrounding myths and broadcast that event online
  • host a lunch or dinner at your faculty where you showcase the importance of healthy nutrition and lifestyle in battling cancer
  • launch a collaborative effort with your local cancer patient group
  • create a twitter chat with your professors, or municipal or ministry health officials
  • go on TV or radio, talk about cancer and help educate your community
  • engage with your government endorsing the WHO global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013–2020 and/or adopting the global monitoring framework on NCDs

It is up to you! Will you engage with the problems presented by cancer or just stay in the sidelines?

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