Broadcast: April 15, 2003
I'm Sarah Long with Bob Doughty, and this is the VOA Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- a warning about world cancer rates ... a campaign to reduce environmental dangers to children ... and a report on the next leader of the World Health Organization.
By two-thousand-twenty, cancer rates worldwide could increase by fifty percent. That warning comes in a new report from experts at the World Health Organization. But they say there are things people and governments can do to reduce this increase.
The World Cancer Report says there could be fifteen-million new cases of cancer in two-thousand-twenty. That compares to ten-million people who developed a cancerous growth in two-thousand. More than sixty percent of them died.
The warning about a possible big increase in cancer rates is based mainly on two things. Populations continue to get older; cancer risk increases with age. Also, smoking and other unhealthy activities -- like eating foods high in fat and calories -- are on the rise.
In two-thousand, the report says, cancers were responsible for twelve percent of deaths from all causes worldwide. Cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of rich countries. But the report says more than fifty percent of all people with cancer now live in developing countries. In fact, poor countries have higher death rates because they lack the resources to find and treat cancers early.
The World Cancer Report says one-third of cancers can be cured, while another third can be prevented. It describes tobacco as the most important cancer risk that can be avoided. Cigarette smokers have a twenty to thirty times higher chance of lung cancer than people who do not smoke.
Tobacco also increases the risk of other forms of cancer as well as other diseases and conditions. For example, women who smoke during pregnancy may have babies with low birth weight. Even people who do not smoke can get sick if they breathe too much of other people's tobacco smoke. In all, the W-H-O says about one-hundred-million people died from tobacco-related diseases during the twentieth century.
The World Cancer Report says the most common cancers around the world are lung and breast cancer. Each year, more than one-million people develop lung cancer. A similar number develop breast cancer. More than nine-hundred-thousand people develop colorectal cancers. More than eight-hundred-thousand develop stomach cancer. And, more than five-hundred-thousand develop liver cancer.
The leading cause of cancer death is lung cancer. It is responsible for seventeen percent of cancer deaths. Stomach cancer is second, followed by liver cancer.
Yet stomach cancer rates worldwide are dropping. Why? The report says the main reason is the invention of the refrigerator. Cold storage avoids the need to use salt to keep fish and meat fresh. The report notes that countries that like lots of salty foods have more stomach cancer. Another reason for the drop is the fact that people in many countries can now buy fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the year.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyons, France, prepared the report. The agency is part of the World Health Organization. The W-H-O itself is part of the United Nations.
The World Cancer Report calls on governments, health experts and the public to take action to reduce the increase in cancer deaths. For one thing, it urges governments to provide medicine that can protect against infections. The report says viruses and bacteria cause up to twenty-three per cent of cancers in developing countries. In developed countries, its says, that number is only about eight percent.
Viruses like hepatitis B and C can lead to liver cancer. Another virus, the human papilloma virus, can cause cervical cancer. And the bacteria Helicobacter pylori can cause stomach cancer.
The World Cancer Report also urges government to support medical examinations that can find curable cancers early. It notes that early discovery especially with diseases like cervical and breast cancer increases the chances for prevention or cure.
Most cancers are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental conditions. But there are steps that might help people lower their risk. The World Cancer Report says one thing is to get physical activity. Another is to eat healthy foods.
Experts say eating a lot of fruits and vegetables can reduce the chances of developing some kinds of cancers. The report says many countries should urge their people to eat locally grown vegetables and fruit, and avoid foods high in fat. At the same time, schools should teach about the importance of exercise and the dangers of cigarettes and high-fat foods.
The report also calls on national cancer control programs to make sure governments provide information to help people make healthy changes in their lives.
More information about the World Cancer Report can be found on the World Health Organization Web site. That address is w-w-w dot w-h-o dot i-n-t.
The World Health Organization marked World Health Day on April seventh. International events organized for that day centered on one main message -- protecting healthy environments for children.
The W-H-O estimates that more than five-million children die each year of diseases related to their environments. The agency called on U-N member states and non-governmental organizations to take stronger steps to reduce the dangers.
The W-H-O says simple measures can prevent child deaths from road accidents, malaria, diarrhea and breathing disorders. Many of these conditions are linked to unsafe drinking water, dirty living conditions and air pollution.
Children are at greater risk than adults from chemicals and other environmental dangers, including germs. Children use more food, air and water than adults do in relation to their body weight. Their bodies are also weaker. And, as the W-H-O points out, they lack the knowledge and experience of adults to understand the dangers around them.
The head of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, launched the international campaign in New Delhi. U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan marked World Health Day with a message in which he urged countries to improve conditions for children. Mister Annan also urged U-N members to join the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance. This group was organized last year during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In July, Gro Harlem Brundtland leaves office after five years as director-general of the World Health Organization in Geneva. Named to replace the former Norwegian prime minister is a W-H-O doctor from South Korea.
The full one-hundred-ninety-two-nation World Health Assembly must approve the nomination of Jong Wook Lee in May. Doctor Lee has worked for the World Health Organization for nineteen years. He currently heads the anti-tuberculosis program.
Jong Wook Lee said his main goal will be to fight health problems in Africa, especially AIDS and the H-I-V virus that causes it. He praised Doctor Brundtland’s work over the past few years to fight infectious diseases and diseases caused by smoking. He said these programs will continue. But, Doctor Lee says the W-H-O must also take a position on new technologies, such as cloning.
The World Health Organization has a yearly budget of more than one-thousand-million dollars. The United Nations established the agency in nineteen-forty-eight. Doctor Lee will be the sixth director-general. Others have been from Canada, Brazil, Denmark and Japan. Doctor Brundtland became the first woman as director-general.
The World Health Organization leads efforts against diseases -- such as the newly discovered Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. It also sets international requirements for medicines, health care and food safety.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach and Jill Moss, and was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.