The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of COVID-19. But while our attention was focused on the coronavirus, the global cancer epidemic quietly increased to 19.3 million cases and 10 million cancer deaths in 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2040, there will be more than 30 million cancer cases and 16.3 million deaths worldwide.
While alarming, these statistics are not destiny. According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), millions of cancer deaths can be prevented by raising awareness and taking action. The UICC organizes World Cancer Day each year on Feb. 4 to inspire changes that will reduce the global impact of cancer.
These changes don’t have to just come from governments and big organizations. For 2021, the theme of World Cancer Day is about you and your commitment to act. There are many ways for everyone to get involved and help save lives. Whether you have a few seconds, a few minutes, or more time to give, we share some ideas on how to create positive change this World Cancer Day.
World Cancer Day 2021: Together, all our actions matter
The UICC started World Cancer Day in 2000 to create a global education initiative aimed at eliminating preventable cancer deaths and improving access to life-saving treatment.
This year’s World Cancer Day marks the final year of a 3-year theme of “I Am and I Will,” with a subtheme of “Together, all our actions matter.” It focuses on the power of cooperation and collective action to take on one of the greatest health challenges in human history. No matter who you are, (“I am”), you can commit to taking action (“I will”) that brings us closer to the ultimate goal of a cancer-free world.
A world without cancer might feel like an impossible goal, but progress is well within reach. More than one-third of cancer cases can be prevented, and another third can be cured through early detection and proper treatment. In the United States, the death rate from cancer declined by 29 percent from 1991 to 2017, according to the American Cancer Society, including a record 2.2 percent drop from 2016 to 2017.
However, health care inequality denies many people access to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Sixty-five percent of global cancer deaths are now happening in the least developed parts of the world. The latest data from UICC predicts that, by 2040, low and middle-income countries will have the greatest relative increases in cancer incidence. And even in the United States, which scores high marks for cancer treatment and survival, the incidence of certain rare cancers continues to increase.
Mesothelioma Cancer Remains Stubborn
World Cancer Day data indicates that lifestyle choices such as eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding substances like tobacco can prevent at least one-third of cancers. Smoking, for example, is linked to more than 70 percent of lung cancer deaths and around 20 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide.
While it’s fairly common knowledge that smoking can cause lung cancer, rare lung cancers such as mesothelioma are a different story. Smoking does not cause mesothelioma. This deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs is caused by exposure to asbestos. Because mesothelioma develops over a period of 10 to 50 years, somebody can live a healthy, tobacco-free lifestyle, but still be diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago. Symptoms that can mimic the common cold make diagnosis notoriously difficult, and the longer diagnosis is delayed, the more limited the treatment options.
Like tobacco companies, asbestos companies lied about the safety of their products and promoted them as safe. But public awareness about asbestos has lagged behind anti-tobacco efforts. Most Americans are probably not aware that asbestos can still be found in older buildings materials, as well as personal products like talcum powder. Both raw asbestos and asbestos product continued to be imported, increasing the chances of continued exposure.
A long latency period, difficult diagnosis, ongoing exposure risk, and lack of public knowledge about asbestos contribute to rising mesothelioma incidence and mortality in the U.S. and worldwide.
How to Get Involved on World Cancer Day
Last year, nearly 1,000 activities in 113 countries reached millions of people on World Cancer Day. From public gatherings to trending hashtags to free cancer screenings, participants found many ways to take action against cancer.
Feb. 4 is your chance to speak out and stand up for a cancer-free world. The World Cancer Day website offers a number of ways to get involved. Only have a second? You can quickly make a donation. Have a minute? Create a social media post to with the hashtags #WorldCancerDay and #IAmAndIWill. Have more time? Create inspiring content or light up a landmark in your city.
Change is not created overnight, or by a single person or single action. Change requires all of us acting together—that’s the theme of World Cancer Day 2021. To create a future without cancer, the time to act is now. What will you do this year?