Its report – The WHO’s World Cancer Report 2014 – warned that while the number of cancer cases would reach 24M a year by 2035, half could be prevented.
But the promotion of healthy eating and lifestyles alone – would not be enough to stem the flood of new cancer cases. “Lessons from cancer control measures in high income countries show that prevention works but that health promotion alone is insufficient,” said the WHO.
“Adequate legislation plays an important role in reducing exposure and risk behaviours,” it claimed.
In particular, governments should take similar action to control alcohol and sugar consumption as those used to tackle tobacco, the report argued. “Similar approaches [to those used against tobacco] needed to be evaluated in other areas, notably consumption of alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages …,” said the WHO.
Each year 14M people are diagnosed with cancer, but that number is forecast to rise to 19M by 2025, 22M by 2030 and 24M by 2035.
The WHO research revealed widespread lack of awareness about the role of diet in preventing cancer – particualry in the developing world, which was where most of the new cases were likely to occur.
'Tidal wave of cancer'
Dr Bernard Steward, one of the report's editors from the University of New South Wales in Australia, said prevention had “a crucial role in combatting the tidal wave of cancer, which we see coming across the world”, according to BBC News.
While many were aware of the accute effects of alcohol – manifested in the forms of car accidents and assaults – it also generated a largely unrecognised disease burden.“The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion and the price of alcohol – those things should be on the agenda.”
The same applied to the cancer risk associated with obesity, fuelled by sugar-rich drinks, he added.
Dr Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer and co-editor of the report, said: “Despite exciting advances, this report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem.
“More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally.”
But the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) highlighted obesity was influenced by a range of factors. Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, said: “The World Health Organisation itself acknowledges that obesity is the result of multiple factors including an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise and modern lifestyles, so to blame one set of products is misguided, particularly when they comprise a mere 2% of calories in the average diet.”
Soft drinks manufacturers have led the way in reducing sugar in their products. he added. “Companies with market share of about 60% are now signed up to the Responsibility Deal calorie reduction pledge.
“Furthermore, soft drinks manufacturers are committed to providing on-pack nutritional information, wider availability of smaller portion sizes and have also substantially increased their advertising and marketing expenditure on low and zero calorie drinks.”
More information about the report is available here.
Sources of preventable cancers
- Delayed parenthood, fewer children and the decline of breastfeeding
- Obesity and inactivity
- Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans