Butler County Times Gazette
  • Jim Hillibish: WHO study says when nations modernize, cancer follows

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  • The economic story of 2014 is nations that are evolving fast from agrarian to commercial economies. It happened in China and Malaysia; it’s happening in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Balkans and Central and South America. The revolutions in the Middle East, while politically complex, boil down to similar economics.
    The world is obsessed with creating an educated middle class with spendable income that further powers the emerging markets. Economists call this a perfect circle.
    It sounds good. People gain freedom, education increases, and new generations escape the dead end of poverty that has ravaged agrarian economies for centuries.
    But there’s a dark side. We are now learning that this progress this comes with tremendous human costs.
    The World Health Organization’s latest health study, researched by 250 scientists in 40 nations, is more than alarming. Cancer is finding in these new middle classes a rich source of victims.
    DRAMATIC INCREASE
    WHO estimates that worldwide cancer cases will rise from 14.2 million in 2012 to 22 million in less than two decades. Cancer currently is killing about 8.5 million people a year. That number will nearly double.
    In contrast, cancer rates in developed nations are on the decline because of improved diagnostics and new treatments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    Developing countries will fuel the 55 percent increase with more than 60 percent of the world’s cases. About 70 percent of the world’s cancer deaths will occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.
    Lung cancer is the main problem, accounting for more deaths than the next three cancers combined (colon, breast and prostate), according to the American Lung Association.
    WHO says that at least half of this “imminent human disaster” can be prevented by changing dangerous lifestyles.
    The Peoples Republic of China is the test tube. Some 281 million Chinese smoke cigarettes, and the number is rising, despite government efforts to curtail it, according to The New York Times. The Epidemiological Studies Unit at the University of Oxford found about 3,000 Chinese die of smoking-related diseases per day.
    The heaviest tobacco marketing is in the nations experiencing the cancer rise, says the WHO. It is uncontrolled, as these nations, including China, have almost no smoking-prevention programs. WHO describes prevention there as comparable to efforts in the 1950s here. There is little public knowledge or concern that smoking kills.
    Researchers found that the first thing many workers buy with their pay is cigarettes.
    The second thing is a vehicle. The increase in cars, coupled with the new factories and almost no clean-air efforts, are causing vast swaths of pollution in China and Malaysia. They turn day into night in the new cities and force people to wear masks and stay indoors. The pollution link to chronic lung diseases and cancer has been well-established.
    Page 2 of 2 - SOLUTIONS?
    “We cannot treat our way out of this cancer problem,” says Chris Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.”
    The challenge is vast. The WHO study notes that cancer’s cost already burdens the economies of all nations, at close to $2 trillion a year.
    It took 20 years of intensive anti-smoking programs to reduce the smoking rate in the United States from 25.5 percent to 19.3 percent, according to the CDC.
    In the next 20 years, if the WHO estimates hold, smoking-related cancer will have killed more than 120 million people worldwide.
    Reach Jim at 330-580-8324. On Twitter: @jhillibishREP.
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