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Latin America threatened with cancer epidemic
by Staff Writers
Sao Paulo (AFP) April 25, 2013

Latin America faces a cancer epidemic, scientists warned Friday as they pressed for urgent action to reduce tobacco use and obesity and allocate more resources to control the disease.

The researchers spoke at the Latin American Cooperative Oncology Group (LACOG) 2013 conference at which they unveiled a groundbreaking study on soaring cancer cases in the region.

The study, published in the British journal The Lancet Oncology, points to around 13 deaths for every 22 cancer cases in the region, compared to around 13 deaths for every 37 cases in the United States and around 13 deaths for every 30 cases in Europe.

It estimated that by 2030, 1.7 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than one million deaths from cancer predicted to occur annually.

It said the main reason was that too many people are diagnosed with cancer at a late stage, when the disease is much harder to treat and more likely to kill.

"We want to galvanize everybody to take action... Cancer is going to be the number one threat and we believe it is very wise to invest more and distribute the budget and resources equitably across all the populations of a country," lead researcher Paul Goss of Harvard Medical School told a press conference.

The American scientist said that while many regional governments have cancer control plans, "what we find is that implementation is lacking."

"Too small a fraction of GDP is going to cancer control and too small a fraction of the overall health budget is directed to cancer control," he added.

Fellow researcher Eduardo Cazap, a member of the executive committee of Argentina's National Cancer institute, noted that there were 1.2 million cancer cases in Latin America, or 10 percent of the world total.

Of these 1.2 million cases, 60 percent were in just two countries: Mexico and Brazil, the region's economic engines, he added.

"Cancer is not a problem of hospitals... It's the environment, the cities in which we live, what we eat, the air we breathe," Cazap said, calling for greater political will by governments to confront it head on.

David Collingridge, editor of The Lancet Oncology, also urged collective action to face the threat directly "if we are not to find ourselves in a catastrophic situation" 15 to 20 years from now.

The report noted that Latin American countries have focused health investments on prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, but said "spending on non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, has not kept pace."

"However, cancers are diseases of aging people, and researchers estimate that by 2020 more than 100 million people in Latin America will be over 60 years of age," it added.

The researchers said the disease currently costs the region $4 billion a year, including not just treatment and medicine, but also the impact on businesses and the economy of lives prematurely cut short by cancer.

"These costs will rise substantially if governments do not take coordinated action now to arrest the growing impact of cancer in the region," the study warned.

And it noted that "many people across the region, especially those in poor, rural or indigenous communities, have little or no access to cancer services, a problem exacerbated by low, and highly inequitable, health investment in most Latin American countries."

Another factor is that more than half (320 million people) of the Latin American population have inadequate or no health insurance.

Governments can bring down cancer rates at relatively low cost, by encouraging people to give up smoking, avoid cooking smoke, reduce their alcohol intake and adopt healthy diets and exercise, the researchers suggested.

The report, which involved 72 people, took 12 months to compile.


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