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Palliative care and cancer care on World Cancer Day

03 February 2017

This year’s World Cancer Day, 4 February 2017, is an opportunity for people to improve their knowledge and awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of cancer; of tips to detect cancer early and to seek treatment to cure cancer.

However, for some people the illness may not be curable and the focus turns to ensuring comfort and good quality of life even when living with serious illness.

Palliative care aims to reduce pain and suffering and improve quality of life for people with cancer and other life limiting conditions. It is an essential element of the continuum of care for people living with cancer and their families and caregivers.

In 2012, there were 14 million new cases of cancer and 8.2 million people died of cancer worldwide. It is expected that new cases of cancer will rise to 22 million in the next two decades.

So it is important that communities and healthcare workers are active in helping people living with the illness. The prevalence of cancer increases with age and three quarters of deaths from cancer occur in people aged over 65.

Therefore palliative care has a strong role to play in the care of older people living with cancer, some of whom may be isolated and alone without family caregivers.

In 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer was estimated at approximately US$ 1.16 trillion. Many Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) are ill-equipped to cope with the escalating burden of disease, yet 65% of cancer deaths occur here.

In addition, there are insufficient screening and treatment programmes for people living in LMICs. More than 60% of world’s total new annual cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America and with the scarcity of oncology services, there is a lower level of cure in developing countries and therefore a higher need for palliative care. These regions account for 70% of the world’s cancer deaths.

Cancer is one of the most common diseases that causes chronic pain which is often severe and sometimes truly unbearable. Palliative care and pain relief and can improve the outcomes and quality of life of people with cancer and their families.

Those dying from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, represent around 90% of the burden of end of life palliative care. It is estimated that 5.5 million terminal cancer patients suffer from moderate to severe pain and, with restrictive legislation in some countries, these people do not have access to essential pain medicines like morphine.

The World Health Organization recommends that governments ensure ensure availability of medication for pain relief and remove unnecessary regulations restricting availability and access to essential medication. 

Palliative care is an essential part of cancer control, both for adults and children. This World Cancer Day, palliative care organisations are joining the call to governments worldwide to step up their response to cancer.

Find out more, including how to get involved, on the World Cancer Day website.

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