According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the number of global cancers has increased by 20% in less than a decade. It is now estimated that there will be 12 million new cases a year. Of these cancer cases, an estimated 2.8 million are preventable, and are largely linked to diet, physical activity, and weight. That number is expected to rise dramatically over the next 10 years.
Unless more proactive measures are taken on a global scale, many experts believe we are facing a global health disaster with far-reaching effects.
"The policy of simply relying on identifying and treating these cases when they occur is simply not a sustainable solution" in any country, said Martin Wiseman, project director at WCRF International. "We need to focus on preventing disease in the first place, so that we have the resources to detect and treat the cases that do occur."
With people being less and less physically active and relying more and more on highly processed and energy-dense foods, the problem is only going to get worse, says Wiseman. Coming up with solutions is not the problem. The challenge is having the world implement what we already know, he says.
This challenge will be addressed at the United Nations this month with the historic Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) which aims to raise awareness of NCDs and mobilize an international effort to reduce the global burden of NCDs. The summit will focus on the four most prominent NCDs: cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. All of these diseases share many common risk factors including: tobacco use, obesity, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity.
Currently 63% of all global deaths are due to NCDs, the majority of which are the four diseases targeted at the summit. And 80% of those deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, said Cary Adams, chief executive officer of the Union for International Cancer Control.
The impact of NCDs goes far beyond being a health issue, he emphasized. "They have far-reaching social, economic, development, and human rights implications."