On Sunday February 4, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) will stand with cancer leaders, health professionals, and supporters across the world to acknowledge World Cancer Day. NCCN is a member of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC ), which organizes World Cancer Day in order to raise awareness of the millions of people worldwide facing unequal access to cancer detection, treatment, and care services. NCCN joins the call for urgent action to reduce the rate of premature cancer deaths and to prioritize access to diagnostics and treatment.
“Everything we do is based on the principal that ‘where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live,'” explained Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “We’re proud to work with our 27 Member Institutions, and other organizations throughout the world, to create the most thorough and frequently updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine, which we then offer to clinicians everywhere for free. We translate our guidelines into several languages, adapt them for varying resource levels, and create companion guidelines specifically meant for helping patients and caretakers better understand their treatment options.”
NCCN’s global efforts include an ongoing collaboration with The American Cancer Society, The Clinton Health Access Initiative, and the African Cancer Coalition to create the NCCN Harmonized Guidelines™ for Sub-Saharan Africa. The project is part of a joint effort to combat the growing cancer burden in developing nations in Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized cancer as the leading cause of global morbidity. Even so, the global target of a 25% reduction in premature deaths from cancer and non-communicable diseases* (NCDs) by 2025 is possible. However, to deliver on this global commitment†, the current inequities in risk factor exposure, and in access to screening, early detection and timely and appropriate treatment and care, must be addressed.
Today, there are an estimated 8.8 million deaths from cancer every year. However, it is the low- to middle-income countries who are bearing the brunt, as approximately 70% of deaths occur in developing countries, which are the most ill-equipped to cope with the cancer burden. The starkest area of inequity relates to childhood cancers – a specific group that the WHO underscored in its landmark 2017 Cancer Resolution – with survival rates over 80% in high income countries and as low as 20% in low income countries.
High- to middle-income countries also experience inequities, particularly within certain populations, including the indigenous, immigrant, refugee, rural, and lower-socioeconomic populations.
Professor Sanchia Aranda, President of UICC and CEO of Cancer Council Australia:
“In the last year of the ‘We can. I can.’ campaign for World Cancer Day, we hope to inspire real action from governments and civil society in addressing the inequities in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care, which unfortunately largely affects the most vulnerable populations in every country. In Australia, while we maintain some of the best cancer outcomes in the world, national data shows that the gap between those in the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups is continuing to widen over time. These overlooked voices must be more forcefully represented in our discussions this World Cancer Day.”
One acute example of a global access gap particularly affecting the underserved and underprivileged is access to radiotherapy. As one of the major methods of treatment for cancer‡, radiotherapy is recommended for 52% of cancer patients. Glaringly, the gap between need and availability is highest in low- to middle-income countries; 90% of low- to middle-income country cancer patients lack access to radiotherapy. Yet, issues of access to this critical treatment also cuts across many countries. In mainland China, there exists a gross shortage of radiotherapy facilities, with access varying widely from province to province. Depending on where you live in England, patients can face significant variation – anywhere from 20% to 70% – in accessing Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy, an advanced form of radiotherapy treatment.
“We applaud the efforts of UICC to draw attention to inequities in cancer care,” said Dr. Carlson. “The more we learn where these disparities exist, the better we can address our collective responsibility to improve care for everyone.”
This World Cancer Day, UICC will launch a new initiative to improve access and deliver on the global target of a 25% reduction in cancer and NCD premature deaths by 2025. The details will be announced on February 4, at worldcancerday.org. Get involved, raise awareness, and join the conversation online with the hashtag #WorldCancerDay.