While much work remains to find a cure for cancer – the good news is we know that many forms of cancer are preventable. On World Cancer Day, a moment when the global community comes together to reflect on those lost to cancer, as well as the advances we need to make to find a cure, it’s important to remember that there are actions that governments and individuals can take to prevent cancer. In fact, governments hold many levers that can actually address this leading killer.

…Almost everyone has a friend or loved one who has battled cancer. Every year, cancer claims more than 8 million lives. Unless we act, by 2030 the number of annual cancer deaths could reach 13 million. But we don’t have to accept that, because another future is possible…

Statement from Michael Bloomberg on World Cancer Day

For example, governments – both at the national and municipal levels – can and should take on tobacco. A staggering twenty-two percent of all cancer deaths are tobacco-related. One of the most effective strategies to cut into tobacco use is to raise tobacco taxes, which not only reduces use but also increases government revenue. When Bloomberg Philanthropies founder Mike Bloomberg served as Mayor of New York City, mortality rates from cancer declined 6.4% compared to 2001.

While we can’t definitively say this was the direct result of one action, we do know that efforts to curb tobacco – like implementing bans on smoking in work places and public spaces, raising the price through increased taxes, and airing hard-hitting media campaigns, had important impact.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has worked with over 59 governments since 2007 and many of them have successfully passed tobacco control laws, including several major Chinese cities, India, and Bangladesh. By using the World Health Organization’s MPOWER package of interventions, we estimate that at least 30 million lives have been saved.

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World Cancer Day poster with calligrphy. February 4th
Image 1.0: World Cancer Day poster with calligraphy. February 4th. Courtesy: © Fotolia. Used with permission.

Regular screening for breast and cervical cancer increases the chances of early detection and treatment, so making women’s health affordable and accessible is also essential.

Another step that governments can take to address cancer rates is addressing obesity. Obesity is linked with an increased risk in several cancers, including kidney, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Thus, research shows that roughly one-third of common cancers can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and incorporating physical exercise.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has been spreading evidence-based strategies in high-burden areas, such as raising taxes on sugary beverages, reducing marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and promoting easy-to-understand nutrition labels on packaged foods. But foundations like Bloomberg Philanthropies need government partners who are willing to move these policies forward.

Cancer is just one kind of noncommunicable disease. Shockingly, noncommunicable diseases and injuries account for almost 80% of global deaths but only 2% of foreign aid globally. Governments are paramount to reducing cancer and other noncommunicable diseases because they have the authority to adapt these evidence-based solutions into policies that can reduce risk and they can dedicate resources to research and treatment.

It’s time for governments to prioritize noncommunicable diseases and that’s why on World Cancer Day we’re calling on governments to join Mike Bloomberg, as the World Health Organization’s Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, to do more!

This editorial/ Op-Ed was developed by Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health Program on World Cancer Day 2017.

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Kelly Henning
Kelly Henning MD, has led the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health program since its inception in 2007. She is a medical doctor and epidemiologist trained in internal medicine, infectious diseases, and public health. Projects under her direction include the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, a 10-year global project aimed at curbing the tobacco epidemic in low– and middle-income countries; the Obesity Prevention Program, a three-year effort to support public health policies at reducing obesity in Mexico; the Bloomberg Global Road Safety Program, a 10-year commitment to reducing road traffic deaths and injuries in developing countries; the Bloomberg Maternal Health Program, a reproductive health initiative based in Africa; the Drowning Prevention Program, which tests high-potential interventions to prevent drowning deaths for children in Bangladesh and the Philippines; and the Data for Health initiative which will enable 20 low- and middle-income countries to vastly improve public health data collection. Prior to joining Bloomberg Philanthropies, Henning was an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine. From 2003-2006, she served as Director of the newly formed Division of Epidemiology at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Henning received her medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She completed Internal Medicine training at the University of Pennsylvania and received her Epidemiology training in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.