Every year on 4 February, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and other organisations (including World Cancer Research Fund), charities, policymakers, and individuals come together to mark World Cancer Day. As UICC perfectly puts it:
World Cancer Day aims to prevent millions of deaths each year by raising awareness and education about cancer, and pressing governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.
This year, as part of a multi-year campaign from 2022–24, the theme is Closing the care gap: Everyone deserves access to cancer care.
The campaign aims to reduce the global impact cancer has upon health in 2 ways:
- Increase awareness of how individuals can live in ways that reduce their risk of cancer.
- Encourage and enable policymakers to implement the policies needed to reduce cancer incidence and mortality by creating equal access to cancer care, and healthful societies and environments.
Cancer is not an equal disease
UICC made the decision to run a 3-year campaign to highlight the importance of understanding the inequalities and disparities that exist within cancer, as well as working in collaborative ways to reduce them. Each year of the campaign has a related, but different, theme.
The focus of World Cancer Day in 2022 was to report and understand the inequalities that exist within cancer care around the world. These include the inequalities and barriers that people face when trying to access healthcare services (including cancer screening and treatment), differences in healthy and unhealthy behaviours between groups and how they impact cancer risk, the cost to governments, communities and individuals of these inequalities, and how we can all work to change them.
This year, the focus of World Cancer Day is collaboration – how can governments, organisations and communities work together to reduce health inequalities in cancer?
In 2024 the theme will be to take everything that we have learnt over the first two years of the campaign to work towards change and reducing health inequalities in cancer. This will include working with governments to prioritise cancer and the elimination of inequalities in cancer outcomes and access to services.
Here are some of the ways World Cancer Research Fund is striving to reduce the global health burden of cancer through collaboration:
Global Cancer Update Programme
At the end of 2022, World Cancer Research Fund launched our flagship research programme called the Global Cancer Update Programme. The programme analyses the global research to further our understanding of how diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight impact cancer incidence and survival. This work continues that undertaken within the Continuous Update Project, while also progressing our understanding of the causes of preventable cancers into new areas of investigation.
The Global Cancer Update Programme has 4 key themes: incidence, survival, obesity and mechanisms.
Understanding the role that diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight have upon cancer incidence will continue to be a core element of the work. But, rather than reviewing all exposures for every cancer, we’ll be undertaking more focused and systematic scans of the evidence and identifying areas for which key pieces of evidence are missing. One new area of investigation will be to investigate cancers by their subtypes rather than as a single disease.
As diagnosis and treatment for cancer continues to improve, the number of individuals living with cancer increases. The Global Cancer Update Programme explores how diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight impact long-term health following a cancer diagnosis. Using this information, we aim to produce Cancer Prevention Recommendations that are tailored for people living with and beyond cancer.
We identified overweight and obesity as a key risk factor for numerous cancers. This area of research will ensure that we understand the modifiable (sometimes referred to as lifestyle) risk factors for obesity. This knowledge can then feed into our incidence research seeking to understand the links between obesity and cancer incidence and mortality.
A key aspect of demonstrating that a particular exposure (for example smoking) causes a cancer outcome (for example lung cancer) is evidence that a biological process (mechanism) happens within the body because of that exposure being present. The new research undertaken by us seeks to explore the evidence surrounding these mechanisms and use the results to support our research related to cancer incidence and survival.
While all of the research undertaken within the Global Cancer Update Programme seeks to better understand the impact diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight have on cancer, we’re also looking at ways to increase our understanding of health inequalities. With this in mind, we recently joined forces with Prof Sir Michael Marmot, a world-leading expert in epidemiology, public health and health inequalities, to look at how we can have more of a focus upon cancer inequalities within the Global Cancer Update Programme, our funded research and wider work.
From science to policy
Our policy work focuses on how to create environments that enable people to follow our Cancer Prevention Recommendations and reduce their risk of developing cancer and other non-communicable diseases. Our existing policy tools such as the NOURISHING and MOVING frameworks and databases guide governments, civil society and the scientific community to take a comprehensive approach to nutrition and physical activity policy for cancer prevention.
We’re also taking exploratory steps in alcohol policy, thus expanding our policy portfolio. Across these policy areas, we aim to drive robust policy design and implementation, with a specific focus on population-based regulatory and fiscal measures. Such measures work at structural levels, by creating environments where healthy choices become default, which we know will also contribute to decreasing inequalities.
As this work develops in parallel with our new Global Cancer Update Programme, health inequalities in cancer should inform and underpin all our policy work. Through our official relations status with the World Health Organization (WHO), we give advice on developing policy, based on our evidence and research. In January, we took part in the Executive Board of the WHO, where we closely followed deliberations on the upcoming update and publication of a new WHO World Report on Social Determinants of Health Equity. With other civil society partners, we highlighted the importance of tackling commercial determinants of health inequalities, driven by actions of unhealthy commodity industries, including the alcohol and unhealthy food and beverage industries.
Funding global research
We fund a diverse portfolio of research with the aim of better understanding the role that diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight have upon cancer risk and survival.
The research we fund continues to explore cancer within diverse global settings and populations, as well as specific groups (for example, young people with cancer and individuals living with comorbidities) and site-specific cancers.
Within all of our funded research we hope to further advance our understanding the modifiable risk factors that impact the development of cancer, and survival from it once diagnosed.
Investigating cancer and inequalities
Below you can see a snapshot of just some of the research related to inequality we’re funding.