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To Reduce the Global Cancer Burden, We Must Improve Local Research and Data Infrastructure

Feb 4, 2019 3 Min. Read

World Cancer Day 2019 serves as a brutal reminder of the outsized burden carried by low-income countries.

This week, we recognized World Cancer Day, an annual February 4th event. This event resonates with most people: Who hasn’t been affected by cancer? Who hasn't experienced the numbing effect of hearing that you, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker has cancer? In my own circle of family and friends, I have seen the effects of breast, blood, brain, colon, esophogeal, metastatic, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancers. Some were caught early and some far too late. Some have had speedy recoveries and others pursued NIH clinical trials. Some experienced a complete recovery; others endured long-term treatment, entered remission, or sadly, they and their families experienced the devastating effects of death. In all cases, there was a struggle to understand why, a decision to fight, and a hope for the best.

This year alone, nearly eight million people will die of cancer; left unchecked, that number will increase to 13.2 million by 2030.

Cancer remains the second leading cause of death resulting in 9.6 million deaths globally in 2018; the most common cancers in descending order are lung, breast, colorectal, prostate, skin, and stomach. Aside from the emotional burden that cancer causes among patients, survivors, and their families, the yearly economic burden is enormous. Though nearly 1 in 6 deaths worldwide is due to cancer, more than 70 percent of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Cancer burden in LMICs is affected by infections (more than 25 percent of cancer cases are related of cancer cases are related to infections like hepatitis and human papillomavirus), and other contributing factors such as access to care and late stage presentation. And, approximately 1/3 of cancer related deaths are due to behavior and dietary intake. This includes factors such as obesity, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and tobacco use.

U.S. Cancer Research and Data Infrastructure

While cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the U.S., there has been a 21 percent decline in the age-adjusted cancer mortality rate between 1975 and 2015. During this same period, the five-year relative survival rate for new cases of cancer has improved from 49 percent to 69 percent. Underpinning these statistics and improvement is a robust research infrastructure with numerous data systems to inform our understanding of cancer.

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