A Focus On: Cancer in Developing Countries

February 4th 2013 is World Cancer Day

Ductal carcinoma in situ. Low-power photomicrograph of sharply defined islands of malignant cells, with tumour retained within duct structures. From: Breast cancer. M. Cariati, L. Holmberg, J. Mansi, P. Parker, G. Pichert, S. Pinder, E. Sawyer, R. Wilson, A. Purushotham. In: Oxford Textbook of Medicine (5 ed.), Edited by David A. Warrell, Timothy M. Cox, John D. Firth. Publisher: Oxford University Press. DOI: 0.1093/med/9780199204854.003.130803_update_001 © OUP 2012.

Cancer is a global problem accounting for almost 13% of all deaths worldwide. This equates to over 7 million people a year; more than is caused by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 17 million new cases of cancer every year, 60% of which will be in the developing world.

There is a driving need to improve cancer care in developing countries, and to intervene across the spectrum of cancer control. Each of the components are highly interdependent – there is no point in improving screening, for example, if there are no treatment facilities for those found to have early cancer. Low-income and emergent nations have to deal with an array of health problems with limited resources, both human and financial, and hitherto there has been a strong focus on eradication of infectious disease.

Unfortunately, this means that non-communicable diseases have been somewhat overlooked, and the majority of sub-Saharan African nations have little or no access to cancer screening, early diagnosis, treatment or palliative care. The majority of African cancer patients present with advanced disease that is far from curable and is often associated with a painful death. Many African dialects do not even have a word for cancer. What is absolutely clear is that there is a hunger for new knowledge among African clinicians and a keenness to contribute their own experience, observations and research findings to the wider cancer community. 

DAVID KERR CBE FRCP FMEDSCI, PROFESSOR OF CANCER MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
STEWART KERR, PROGRAMME MANAGER, AFROX (www.afrox.org)

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