Myth: Cancer affects mostly developed nations

This year, the theme of World Cancer Day, February 4, is debunking key myths about cancer. One unfortunate myth is that cancer primarily affects the wealthiest nations and elderly populations. However, in 2008, 55 percent of new cancer cases were reported in developing nations. In fact, cervical cancer is an example of a cancer type that poses a dire and largely unnecessary threat to developing nations and younger populations.

In the western world, widely available screening tests and human papilloma virus (HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer) vaccines help drastically reduce risks of developing or dying from cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer is still a leading killer of women in developing countries. Out of the estimated 275,000 women who die each year from cervical cancer, more than 85 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries. The Cervical Cancer Action Report Card states that if current trends continue, by 2030, cervical cancer is expected to kill more than 474,000 women per year.

We have the knowledge and tools to prevent unnecessary loss of life from cervical cancer. Recently, GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) committed to curb the threat of this disease. Through their help, more than 30 million girls in developing countries could have the opportunity to be immunized against HPV by 2020.

The American Cancer Society supports GAVI’s lifesaving efforts. We also support the RAND First Ladies Initiatives which aims to help mobilize First Ladies in Africa to become effective advocates for change. In Tanzania and other parts of eastern Africa, cervical cancer was the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among women.

We must support more advocates like Anne Korir of the Kenya Cancer Association to become champions of change. As part of the American Cancer Society’s Meet the Targets grant program, Ms. Korir advocates for wider, more integrated access to cancer education and screening services, particularly within counseling and testing centers in Kenya. She is also pushing to make cancer and other chronic diseases a political priority in her country.

To help create demand for more resources where they are most needed, we ask for your help in debunking misconceptions about cervical and other cancers that affect the most vulnerable populations. Please visit our interactive Facebook page on global cancer myths and visit the Union for International Cancer Control’s worldcancerday.org to see what the world is doing to raise awareness about the global cancer burden on February 4th.

About the Author: Ann McMikel is Vice President of Global Health at the American Cancer Society