The World Health Organization and Cancer – A Summary


A summary of what The World Health Organization (WHO) has discovered about cancer from scientific research:

Cancer is highly preventable: by stopping smoking, providing healthy food and avoiding the exposure to carcinogens.

Some of the most frequent cancer types are curable by surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The chance of cure increases substantively if cancer is detected early.

Quality of life of cancer patients and their families can be greatly improved by the provision of palliative care.

Cancer control is a public health approach aimed at reducing causes and consequences of cancer by translating our knowledge into practice.

Recommendations from the World Health Organization relating cancer include action in the following areas:

minimizing or eliminating exposure to cancer causes

reducing individual susceptibility to the effects of these causes

serving the greatest public health potential

identifying the most cost-effective long-term cancer control

tobacco control

obesity control

control of composition of the diet

control of consumption of alcoholic beverages

The World Health Organization sees cancer prevention programs as part of integrated, national strategies. The risks that they identify for cancer above are common to all noncommunicable diseases including heart, diabetes and respiratory problems. Prevention programs for all chronic diseases are able to use the same surveillance and health promotion techniques. According to WHO recognized causes of cancer include:

occupational and environmental exposure to a number of chemicals

links between a number of infections and certain types of cancer

parasitic infection schistosomiasis

exposure to some forms of ionising radiation

excessive ultraviolet radiation

WHO treatment priorities

Early detection improves chances of survival, but WHO stress 'only when linked to effective treatment'. The WHO wants to increase our awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer and help set up regular screening of apparently healthy individuals.

Accurate diagnosis of cancer is the first step to effective management. Care of cancer patients starts with recognition of some kind of abnormality in the body, followed by a visit to a health care facility for diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed then the disease is 'staged'. The patient may be referred to a specialist cancer treatment center.

Orthodox treatment for the cancer is likely to involve a mixture of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and surgery. The primary objectives of cancer treatment are: cure, the prolongation of life and improvement of the quality of life.

Survival rates

Survival rates in standard treatments vary according to the variety of cancer. For example the advanced treatment of cancer of the uterine corpus, breast, testis, and melanoma may produce a 5-year survival rate of 75% or more. Survival rates in cancer of the pancreas, liver, stomach, and lung are generally less than 15%. Because of the nature of cancer, many patients present themselves with advanced disease. The only realistic treatment for these patients is pain relief and palliative care. For insurance purposes, cancer is often regarded as incurable.