World Cancer Day 2014: Encouraging Progress, with More to Do

More than 40 years ago, the United States declared a “War on Cancer,” implementing the National Cancer Act (NCA) in 1971. For those who have wondered, “What did that really mean? What have we really accomplished?” the answer is promising.

Two new reports published last month showed that 1) cancer death rates in the U.S. have continued to decline by about 20 percent in the last 20 years (with breast cancer mortality declining by 34 percent since 1990), and 2) fewer years of life have been lost to cancer since the NCA was passed.

Today – World Cancer Day – is the perfect time to mark what we as a community, a nation, and individuals have made possible in the U.S.  It’s clear that advances in research, early detection and more effective treatments, have led to more years with family and friends, more memories and more hope here in our country.

The war on cancer, however, extends far beyond our borders, with huge impacts on regions of the world where resources are scarce.

The International Association of Research on Cancer (IARC) reports that cancer cases are expected to rise to 22 million annually over the next 20 years, and cancer deaths will grow from 8.2 million to 13 million each year.   Low-and-middle-income countries will feel this impact the worst as their populations grow and age:  IARC reports that more than 60 percent of the world’s cancer cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. These regions account for about 70 percent of the world’s cancer deaths.

This increase creates what IARC calls an “impossible” strain on health-care systems even in richer countries. The global impact of cancer is estimated by IARC at $1.16 trillion US dollars in 2010.

I promised my dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that I would do all in my power to end breast cancer. That promise has become a promise to all women – regardless of where they live – to end a disease that will take this awful toll. 

We’ve fulfilled this promise through partnerships, knowing from our own experience at Komen that cancer deaths can be reduced by knowledge, access to early detection and access to early and effective treatment. Komen is active in more than 30 countries today, opening the conversation about breast cancer while funding programs and strategies to educate, screen and effectively treat breast cancer. Our focus is on low-and-middle income countries in Africa, the Middle East, central Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.

Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, an area once plagued by HIV/AIDS, is now facing rapidly increasing rates of breast and cervical cancer. In 2011, Susan G. Komen, PEPFAR, UNAIDS and the George W. Bush Institute founded the innovative public-private partnership Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) to educate women about breast and cervical cancer and use existing medical platforms to provide screening and treatment to those in need. It just makes sense: utilizing existing tools and expertise to drive change, and ultimately, to save lives. Read more about this work in our latest PRRR update.

We have long believed that where a woman lives should not determine whether she lives. Through programs that increase public knowledge, offer clinical training sessions, improve local healthcare infrastructure and so much more, we hope to be able to boast of decreases in breast cancer mortality sooner rather than later.

The fight against breast cancer is taking place 365 days a year, all around the world – not just through outreach but through Komen-funded research in more than 500 laboratories around the world. This work must continue if we are to achieve our goal of a world without breast cancer.

There is still a great deal left to understand about cancer. Who will develop cancer? How do we prevent it? What causes a cell to mutate? And then what causes it to spread to other parts of the body? We simply don’t have these answers. At least not yet.

The truth is we have a lot of work ahead of us. But on this day, we are pleased to know that the world is listening, and is ready to help find answers that can save lives.

Learn more about our work and World Cancer Day.


About the author

Nancy G. Brinker has written 27 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen on a promise she made to her sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. She led a relentless breast cancer information and awareness campaign and succeeded in breaching the silence surrounding the disease, fundamentally changing the way it is talked about and treated. She started the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® and also pioneered cause-related marketing, both of which have had a profound impact on the breast cancer movement. An outspoken champion of all people with breast cancer as well as those who are at risk for developing the disease, Ambassador Brinker takes her cause and her passion all over the world, seeking the fresh input and international partnerships essential to ending breast cancer forever. Among her many leadership roles, Brinker served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 2001-2003 and as U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009.