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My blog for World Cancer Day

Posted on 3 February 2014 | 10:02pm

Today is World Cancer Day, where those fighting cancer across the world come together to raise awareness of the disease, and what needs to be done so that the work can go on to beat it. As Theodore Roosevelt said ‘believe you can, and you’re half way there.’

Well I don’t know if we are half way there; there’s certainly been a lot of progress, but there’s a lot more to be done. Statistics published today reveal for the first time that cancer is the biggest cause of death worldwide, with 8.2 million people dying per year.

So the global cancer epidemic is huge and expected to rise. Cases of cancer are predicted to increase to 19.3 million by 2025 – about the populations of Sweden, Norway and Finland combined.

Leukaemia, the cancer that brought me into this fight when it killed both my best friend and his daughter, John and Ellie Merritt, was once a virtual death sentence for children. Now, thanks in large part to the research work done by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, nine out of ten children will be treated and will survive. But survival rates among adults have not improved so dramatically, so the work goes on to make sure they do.

Inevitably, given the harm cancer has done all over the world, the debates surrounding cancer tend to focus on the treatment to cure those who struck down by it. But this year World Cancer Day is also looking at how cancers can be prevented. Much has been done, and will continue to be done, by organisations like World Cancer Research Fund International to raise awareness of the fact that a healthy lifestyle – a nutritious diet, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight – can help prevent about a third of the most common cancers, and World Cancer Day is a great way of taking that forward. But there is also a huge amount of work being done in the research community to help people stopping getting cancer in the first place.

You might not think leukaemia and other blood cancers can be prevented. It’s certainly true that currently there aren’t the strong lifestyle links of other cancers, such as smoking and lung cancer, being overweight and bowel and breast cancer, or the many cancers in which excessive alcohol consumption can play a part.

However, there are groups of blood cancer patients where disease could be prevented. Fifteen per cent of patients with acute myeloid leukaemia develop the disease as a result of harsh treatment for a previous cancer. By funding research into these 15% of patients, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research hope to be able to stop these cancers from happening, which would mean 375 more people every year would be spared blood cancer all together.

Much has been done to advance our knowledge of cancer and get us closer to the day when it will no longer have such a dreadful impact on people’s lives, or be such a burden on health services. However there is still much to be done. This is why World Cancer Research Fund International are calling on world leaders to help prevent and control cancer by urgently implementing the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan on Non-Communicable Diseases to achieve the 25 x 25 target: a 25% reduction in premature deaths from non communicable diseases, including cancer, globally by 2025. To help countries implement the Plan, World Cancer Research Fund International has developed a framework to make clear where countries should be taking action.

World Cancer Day is also a good day to think about what we, as individuals, can do in our own lives and lifestyles to be and feel healthier. And if that includes any desire to get fit by running, swimming or cycling, then I hope I can be allowed, as captain of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research’s triathlon team, a plug for their many fundraising sports events – a great opportunity to start living a healthier life, and raise crucial funds for life saving research at the same time.

  • Ehtch

    As the son of a cancer sufferer (prostate + bowel with subsequent bag), and mother of my daughter ex-partner(breast recent), both thankfully Lord now in full remission, things have moved on.

    But yes, seems to be becoming more often, and I am not mentioning microwaved mars bars to heads, or have I? ; ) Brain cancer, it seems to me, is well up for some reason. But those analogue house bricks of the 1980s and slimmer ones of the 1990s were unhealthy, I believe.

    May the research continue, and sort and eliminate the easy dangers, environmental.

    And oh yes, strontium-90 isotope in the environment does not help, where it increased after that tsunami in Japan a few years ago, all over the World. Think I have said enough. ; ) Cancer figures after Nevada 1945 first testing onwards are sketchy/buried. More ; ) .

    • Ehtch

      “Thomas is reported to have commented that Under Milk Wood was developed in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a way of reasserting the evidence of beauty in the world” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_Milk_Wood

  • volcanopete

    Let’s not forget those who have mesothelioma from asbestos exposure,another preventable cancer.

  • Michele

    I’m really glad smoking is less ‘normal’ and acceptable than it used to be, am ashamed to say that after stopping during pregnancy I re-started very soon after having my baby (a long time ago) and did regret that so much (but resisted smoking in his company).
    Somehow a few years later I just stopped, the determination came from being in a situation that I really didn’t think could feel any worse so I took the opportunity of overnight withdrawal and it was easy, far less bad than the other thing!
    The number of illnesses we hear of now, albeit less awful than cancer make smoking such an unattractive thing, gum disease, brown teeth, smelly breath and clothes and homes…..
    I did something similar with driving, just decided to sell the car and now walk nearly everywhere and am in such a high part of town that the views make the hills really enjoyable (much easier than a bike would be!) and the weight had dropped off before I even thought it might so yet another bonus.
    Have been a bit silly about not keeping up with scans and some tests in recent years but have some booked now; have never been someone who’d rather not know so it’s been really daft of me.
    We’re very lucky in London to have so many hospices, I’m near to the very first and am often dumbfounded by people’s attitude to it – have actually heard Mums telling kids on the bus that goes past ‘ooooh don’t ever go in that place, nobody gets out alive’! It’s a wondrous place, the staff have to be very very special people.