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World health authorities looking to prevent cancer

A report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) indicates a welcome move away from the endless search for expensive ‘magic bullet’ chemical solutions for cancer in favour of a more holistic and preventative approach.

This is good news for alternative health professionals who have long been advocating healthier nutrition and more active lifestyles as a way of avoiding some of the biggest challenges to health and longevity.

Now, the WCRF seems to have woken up to this realisation and is demanding governments take this new approach to healthcare, rather than pumping untold billions into Big Med and Big Pharma, in order to avoid what it’s saying could be “a public health disaster”.

It believes that persuading people to live and eat more healthily could prevent up to as much as a staggering 2.8 million cases of cancer a year.

Once in a generation opportunity

The number of global cancers has increased by a fifth in less than a decade to around 12 million new cases a year, and along with other chronic diseases like heart and lung disease and diabetes are the world's biggest health challenges, the Fund said.

In a report released two weeks before a United Nations summit on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the charity said political leaders had a "once in a generation" opportunity to tackle a wave of cancer and other lifestyle diseases.

Global health experts say many deaths from NCDs, including around a third of all common cancers, could be prevented by reducing alcohol intake, improving nutrition, discouraging smoking and promoting more physical activity.

“With millions of lives at risk around the world, the stakes are incredibly high," said Martin Wiseman, WCRF's medical and scientific adviser.

"People are still unaware that risk factors such as alcohol and obesity affect cancer risk, while at the same time, from television advertising to the pricing of food, our society works in a way that discourages people from adopting healthy habits."

UN Summit

Of course, governments are unlikely to get themselves fully behind any such initiatives because increased taxation of cigarettes and alcohol, and advertising curbs on MacDonalds and Burger King, would bring them into conflict with those who fund their parties.

But diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases kill 36 million people a year, according to the U.N.'s Geneva-based health agency, the World Health Organisation. Over the next 20 years, this epidemic is projected to accelerate and that by 2030, the number of deaths from NCDs could reach 52 million a year.

While they are often thought of as diseases of the rich world, NCDs actually disproportionately affect people in poorer nations. More than 80 percent of NCD deaths are among people living in low and middle income countries.

The WCRF said around seven million of the 12 million cancer cases diagnosed each year are in developing countries and that figure is also predicted to rise dramatically.

"Unless we act now..the charity appeals of the future will not be just for disasters and famines, but to pay for cancer care," Kate Allen, the fund's director of science and communications, told reporters at the briefing.

But there are already fears that the UN Summit in New York to discuss these issues, scheduled for September 19 and 20, could be ineffective, with major rich-world players such as the United States, Europe and Japan reluctant to commit to taxes, regulations and targets for reducing the burden of these diseases.

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