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Cancer Overtaking Aids, TB as Leading Killer

Cancer is now claiming the lives of more people in developing countries each year than Aids, tuberculosis or malaria, health experts say.

Their report, issued before World Cancer Day on 4 February, said more than 12 million new cases of cancer had been diagnosed worldwide last year, with 7,6 million deaths among them.

More than half of all new cases and around 60 percent of the deaths occurred in developing countries, where poor medical infrastructure often means cancer is a death sentence.

“Cancer in the developing world is a hidden crisis that goes largely unreported, undiagnosed and untreated,” said David Kerr, a professor of clinical pharmacology and cancer therapeutics at the University of Oxford, who contributed to the report.

“Cancer survival rates in developing countries are exceptionally poor. Lack of awareness, stigma and reliance on traditional healers mean most people do not seek medical help until their disease is advanced and often incurable.”

According to the report, issued by health foundation and consultancy Axios International, there could be 20 million new cases of cancer and 13 million deaths a year by 2030.

The report says there are several reasons why cancer – which previously found a stronghold in rich economies – is expanding so fast in poorer countries.

One is that people are living longer, and the risk of cancer rises with age. Another is the spread of modern lifestyles, characterised by smoking, drinking, little exercise and diets high in fat and sugar and low in roughage.

A third factor is cancers that are related to infection, such as the human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical and colorectal tumours; liver cancer, which is linked to hepatitis B and C viruses; stomach cancer, caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori; and Kaposi’s sarcoma, caused by the herpes virus.

Vulnerability has been increased by the damaged HIV and Aids does to immune systems.

In low- and middle-income countries, the three most commonly diagnosed cancers are lung, stomach and liver in men, and breast, cervical and stomach cancer among women.

But early warning infrastructure to alert people at risk – as well as the doctors and drugs to treat them effectively – can be pitifully absent in such countries.

For example, in the developed world, 63 percent of women have access to cervical screening, but only 19 percent do in developing countries.

“Today, significant progress has been made in the early detection of many cancers, in particular breast and cervical, yet nearly four in five people with cancer in developing countries are not diagnosed until they have late-stage disease,” Joseph Saba, chief executive officer of Axios, said in a statement.

This article was originally published on page 3 of Cape Times on February 03, 2009.

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