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It's World Cancer Day - what can you do?

Wednesday 2 February, 2011 by Helen

Here at Cancer Council Victoria, we spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year (they even make us think about it on our holidays - ok that's not true) thinking about cancer ­- how to best support  those with the disease, which promising research to fund and (for everyone in the Cancer Prevention Centre) how to prevent it.

We know we're not alone in thinking about cancer every day. For those who have been diagnosed with cancer, and their family and friends, it can also be all-consuming. Cancer is increasingly all pervading: in the news, in our thoughts, in us. For a thought-provoking article about how we might start considering cancer ‘the new normal' check out this piece by Siddhartha Mukherjee, based on his new book The Emperor of all Maladies.

Each year 12.7 million people discover they have cancer and 7.6 million people die from the disease. And it seems the World Health Organization agrees with Prof. Mukherjee, projecting that without immediate action the global number of deaths from cancer will increase by nearly 80% by 2030, with most occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

But despite the news coverage, the ever-increasing number of diagnoses, our links to people affected by the disease, a huge amount of us don't think about cancer much at all on a day-to-day basis. Not until it touches us directly. We don't think much about our personal level of risk, how what we're doing day after day might affect our chances of getting it, or how to help the mostly faceless millions fighting the disease.

So the annual World Cancer Day (4 February this year) is one day when we invite everyone to join us in our cancer obsession. Organised by the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control), this is the day when member organisations throughout Australia and the world join together and ask people to take a moment to think about cancer, and what we as individuals can do to reduce its global impact.

You can begin by signing the UICC's World Cancer Day declaration. The aim is to gather one million signatures in time for the first UN Summit for Non -Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in September 2011, in order to persuade world leaders to take action to reduce the global cancer burden by 2020.

And on World Cancer Day this year especially (we reserve the right to say that again next year though) we'd like to ask everyone to take a minute to think about decreasing their personal level of risk, and how they can help protect themselves against cancer ­- and not by downing South American berries or wearing those dubious magnetic wristbands.

New research released today to coincide with World Cancer Day has strengthened the link between lifestyle factors and cancer with findings that up to 70% of certain cancers could be prevented by diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

In general we usually say that more than a third of all cancers can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle, but this research indicates that for certain cancers the impact of these factors is much, much higher.

Based on US figures, the following amounts of cancer could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle:

  • 70% of cancers of the uterus
  • 63% of cancers of the mouth and throat
  • 69% of oesophageal cancers
  • 45% of bowel cancers
  • 38% of breast cancers

And that's just from maintaining a healthy weight through diet, and upping the physical jerks ­- so before we even consider the cancer-preventing power of quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, being SunSmart and taking regular early detection checks such as Pap tests and bowel cancer screening.

So this is good news. People often feel that cancer is something that just happens to you, that they've been plucked by the giant hand in the sky and dropped into the unlucky pile, but this research shows there are statistically effective ways you can have a pretty big say in choosing the pile you get put in yourself.

This World Cancer Day you may also wish to donate to a cancer charity such as Cancer Council Victoria so we can continue to support people with cancer, to keep funding those researchers who might just make a breakthrough.

But above all: start choosing your pile.

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