Feb. 4 is an important day for global health: World Cancer Day. Celebrated by more than 100 countries worldwide, the observance is a global initiative to raise awareness about cancer, which kills more than 10 million people every year.
Led by the Union for International Cancer Control, the initiative aims to improve education and government action to reimagine a world where these millions of lost lives are preventable. It also strives to make cancer treatment and care available to everyone.
World Cancer Day was established in 2020, focusing on the least-developed parts of the world, which contain more than 65% of cancer deaths. The 2023 theme is “Close the Care Gap,” encouraging people to seek and receive the care they need if they are sick and once diagnosed.
Everyone, regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, family history, or nation of origin, is at risk of being diagnosed with cancer. Many factors contribute to developing the disease, including alcohol, weight, poor diet and nutrition, smoking, and lack of exercise at the top of the list.
The more alcohol one drinks, even moderately, increases the risk. Being overweight is related to an increased chance of 13 different cancers, including pancreatic and bowel. Cigarettes, which contain 80 different cancer-causing ingredients, significantly increase the risk of lung, mouth, and other cancers. Tobacco use is responsible for more than one-third of cancer deaths.
Two essential preventative measures are diet/nutrition and regular physical activity. Diets high in red and processed meats, salt, and sugar can contribute to cancer, while regular exercise cuts a person’s risk of cancer, such as breast and colon.
Experts also suggest avoiding sunlamps and tanning beds and using a strong sunscreen to cut skin cancer risk, and being vaccinated against Hepatitis B Virus and the Human Papilloma Virus to protect against liver cancer and cervical cancer, respectively.
But those preventative measures aren’t always enough. Many people worldwide face barriers to a healthy lifestyle and even greater obstacles to healthcare and treatment after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Half of the world’s population lacks access to the full range of medical services. They may not be near a doctor or have access to healthy food.
Others may not have a car to get to a hospital or money for a gym or a safe exercise place. Those who identify as LGBTQ+, live with a disability, are elderly, or are from a marginalized community, face healthcare discrimination.
That is the concern at the heart of World Cancer Day’s “Close the Care Gap” theme. It’s far more than just a day on the calendar but is designed to engage countries around the globe to create fewer diagnoses and more survivors. By uniting governments, advocates, organizations, and individuals, it creates change and real-world progress, both in medical advances and the small actions that can make a difference.
Whether that’s motivating a friend to help someone without transportation get to a treatment session, or a group working to ensure that healthy and sustainable food is available at a local school, each small action is a critical drop in an ocean of change.
“While we have different languages, varied cultures, and diverse origins, we share a common enemy: cancer,” said Kenji Lopez Cuevas, founder of Cancer Warriors of Mexico. “World Cancer Day reminds us that cancer affects millions around the world and that if we work together, we can defeat it.”