We Could Prevent Millions Of Cancer Deaths Each Year With Knowledge We Already Have

Cancer patient Cao Dongxian poses with CT scan images of his intestine at a hotel room where he stays, near the Peking Union Hospital. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Danielle Andrew 14 Oct 2016, 12:34

The ConversationVice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel has released 10 recommendations to accelerate a new national effort “to end cancer as we know it.” These initiatives, focused mainly on the U.S., will almost certainly extend the lives of some cancer patients in the future.

However, cancer deaths worldwide are estimated to increase by over 50 percent between 2015 and 2030, mainly due to expanding and aging populations. We already have the knowledge and technology to reduce this toll for future decades without waiting for new breakthroughs.

About half of cancer cases and deaths worldwide are preventable. For instance, lung and liver cancer are the most common causes of cancer deaths around the world and cervical cancer is the fourth leading cause among women. And we already know how to prevent almost all of them.

Like many of my colleagues who study cancer prevention, I believe that scaling up existing preventive interventions and already available treatments over two to three decades could save millions of lives around the world.

A worker smokes a cigarette during a break at a fabric factory in Solo, Indonesia, Central Java province, August 2016. Beawiharta/Reuters

Cut The Number Of Lung Cancer Deaths Globally

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. and around the world, killing over one and a half million men and women a year. But in American men, lung cancer death rates have fallen by about 40 percent over the past 25 years. In women, lung cancer rates have peaked.

That’s because the proportion of adults in the U.S. who smoke has decreased by about 50 percent since the 1960s, due to public education, indoor smoking bans and higher prices due to higher tobacco taxes. This reduction happened despite the ongoing, vigorous efforts of tobacco companies to combat these public health initiatives.

Similar reductions in France and South Africa have been achieved by increasing cigarette prices. However, the number of smokers is still increasing in countries such as China and Indonesia as tobacco companies seek new markets, and a demographic bulge of younger potential smokers enters adolescence.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the international blueprint on policies to reduce the uptake of smoking and encourage current smokers to quit.

The United States is one of only seven countries that has signed but not ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. If our country is serious about cancer control, we should join the 180 countries that have ratified the convention.

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