Global Key Message
- Investment in the reduction of a population’s exposure to cancer risk factors is a long-term investment in the health of the population, which will also reduce the overall burden on the health system.
- Effective cancer prevention at the national level begins with a national cancer control plan (NCCP) that responds to a country’s cancer burden and cancer risk factor prevalence.
- A NCCP is designed to implement evidence-based resource-appropriate policies and programmes that reduce the level of exposure to risk factors for cancer and strengthen the capacity of individuals of all ages to adopt lifestyle choices that promote good health for life.
The Facts – Key data
- With the right strategies, more than one in every three cancers can be prevented.
- Cancer and other high-prevalence non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are linked to common risk factors, namely tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of physical activity.
- The most common risk factor, tobacco use, is linked to 71% of all lung cancer deaths, and accounts for at least 22% of all cancer deaths. Alcohol is also a known risk factor for cancer and is strongly linked with an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast.
WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2015.
- Much of the world is experiencing upward trends in overweight and obesity and of particular concern is the increasing rate of obesity in children and adolescents. Overweight and obesity is strongly linked to increased risks of bowel, breast, uterine, pancreatic, oesophagus, kidney and gallbladder cancers.
- Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is also critical for skin cancer prevention. In 2000, excessive exposure to UV radiation caused 60,000 premature deaths most of those as a result of recreational exposure.
- 177,000 cancer deaths each year are related to occupational exposure to selected carcinogens, with one in every three deaths caused by asbestos. Air pollution is a major environmental risk factor for cancer. The most recent data indicate that in 2010, 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution.
Meeting the Challenge
A life-course approach to prevention is a core principle of the WHO Global Action Plan for NCDs 2013-2020 seeking to address exposure to risk factors at all ages and stages, including during childhood and adolescence when many risk behaviours first start. Concerted action in all sections of society and at all levels is needed to facilitate the implementation of prevention policies and programmes, including in schools and the workplace.
Additionally, the effective use of law and regulatory measures to reduce the exposure to cancer risks including to tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods, as well as environmental exposures, should be integrated within a comprehensive health systems approach to cancer and NCD control. Additionally, governments should implement and enforce international labour standards for occupational safety and health, particularly those regarding occupational cancer and asbestos (Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Asbestos).