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World Community Responds to the Global Cancer Crisis

Jason M. Broderick @jasoncology
Published: Monday, Jun 13, 2011

United Nations Building in New YorkA special press briefing at the 47th ASCO Annual Meeting highlighted the world community’s response to the global cancer crisis.

Representatives from ASCO, the Union for International Cancer Control, and the American Cancer Society stressed the importance of developing and implementing concrete solutions at the upcoming September 2011 United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in New York City.

According to the World Health Organization, NCDs, such as cancer, comprise 63% of annual global mortalities, claiming the lives of 7.6 million people each year.

With severe disparities in oncology education and access to proper cancer treatments, developing nations face a disproportionate share of the global cancer burden.

The September UN NCDs summit will mark only the second time in the organization’s 65-year history that a UN high-level meeting has focused on a health issue.

Noting the historical moment, CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD, announced at the briefing that ASCO had delivered a letter to President Obama endorsed by nearly 300,000 physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, urging him to attend the UN NCD session.

The World’s Oncology Society

Allen S. Lichter, MD
Allen S. Lichter, MD
ASCO has made international collaboration on cancer care a priority since its inception in 1964.

“From its very founding, oncologists were able to join from any country in the world as full members. The founders of the society recognized that [cancer] is a global problem, and we should exchange our ideas and research findings globally…Our members come from over 100 countries around the world. Fifty percent of the papers that are published in our journal come from overseas. Over 50% of attendees at this meeting are international. So, in many respects, we are the world’s oncology society,” said Lichter.

According to Lichter, the importance of the upcoming UN NCD Summit cannot be overstated. “ASCO views the UN summit as a truly historic, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact and improve the lives of millions of patients around the world,” he said.

Lichter identified 3 major items that must emerge from the summit for him to consider it a success:

  • Stated recognition that NCDs, including cancer, are a serious world health problem that countries around the world intend to address.
  • Resources are made available to address the cancer crisis.
  • Highly specific goals for progress against NCDs are implemented and monitored.
Regarding the third item, Lichter announced that ASCO had formally endorsed a Proposed Outcomes Document for the UN NCD Summit that was issued by the NCD Alliance, a collaboration of 4 international organizations. The proposal outlines specific targets for the world community to endorse at the meeting.

Personal Perspective

The ASCO press briefing also included a personal perspective on cancer treatment in the developing world from Honduran oncologist Angel Sanchez, MD.

Describing the cancer-care realities in his country, Sanchez said, “I would say we have around 10,000 new cases [of cancer] a year. Most of the patients come to the doctor when they have advanced disease and the cure rate is small. And the resources we have, like chemotherapy, radiation therapy…even painkillers—everything is so limited that most of the population that gets cancer does not get the proper treatment. I would say 80% don’t get the right treatment for the disease.”

Sanchez believes education is the most important resource cancer organizations such as ASCO can provide to improve the situation in developing countries.

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