World Cancer Day: Celebrating A Break-Through Year


On this day 20 years ago, United Nations leaders signed the Charter of Paris Against Cancer for the New Millennium, declaring, "lives can and will be saved by increased access to existing technologies." Since then World Cancer Day has been observed on February 4th.

Their prediction has borne out year after year. Optimistic scientists say cancer is one problem humans just might be able to solve, if only we throw enough time, money and elbow grease at it.

"If you read our mission statement, it's actually about eradicating cancer and then also eradicating the fear of cancer," says American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) president Dr. Howard Burris. "Some subsets, some smaller types of lung cancer are actually cured, same for some types of breast cancer and a number of other malignancies. But more importantly maybe is this eradicating the fear of cancer: making it a treatable disease."

The science, Burris says, is "exploding."


ASCO released its 2020 cancer research progress report just in time for World Cancer Day. The researchers' Advance of the Year for 2020 is what they call the refinement of surgical treatment. For example, advanced melanoma now requires less-invasive surgery. Some renal cell carcinoma patients can now receive targeted therapy as an alternative to immediate surgery. On the other hand, surgery is becoming an option more often when it’s needed, like with pancreatic cancer.

Other breakthroughs in ASCO's report include:

  • Long term reduction of cervical cancer risk due to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination
  • More personalized metastatic pancreatic cancer treatment
  • A growing number of targeted therapies based on each patient's genetics
  • A large study finding vitamin D won't reduce cancer risk for otherwise healthy people


Another group, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), does a survey each year to find out if Americans know the truth about cancer risks. 

This year’s survey found about 9 in 10 Americans know smoking is a risk factor for cancer. Fewer than half of the people surveyed this time around knew that the following have been found to increase cancer risk:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating red meat
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables

AICR vice president of research Nigel Brockton, PhD, says you don't have to become a tee-totaling vegan marathon runner to improve your cancer risk.

"We definitely look at this as a call for action, not perfection," Brockton says. He says healthy choices like physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer-causing mutations by decreasing inflammation in the body.

The AICR website has a Cancer Health Check quiz so people can easily find out what more they could do to improve their own risk factors.

Photo: Getty Images

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