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Every 4th February of each year, the World commemorates World Cancer Day. This day is an initiative of Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). Taking place under the tagline ‘We can. I can.’, World Cancer Day 2017 enables us to explore how everyone – as a collective or as individuals – can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer. Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, all people have the power to take various actions to reduce the impact that cancer has on individuals, families and communities.

Globally, about 715,000 new cancer cases and 542,000 cancer deaths occurred in 2008 in Africa (GLOBO-CAN, 2008). These numbers are projected to nearly double (1.28 million new cancer cases and 970,000 cancer deaths) by 2030 simply due to the aging and growth of the population, with the potential to be even higher because of the adoption of behaviors and lifestyles associated with economic development, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.

According to World Health Organization Report (2014), from 2000 to 2012, a total of 353000 cancer deaths occurred in Uganda. This translates in 74 cancer deaths per day. What makes it more painful in Uganda is that most cancer deaths occur among the productive age group of 30-50 years and the number of new cases is ever on the increase. World cancer day gives us a chance to reflect on what you can do, make a pledge and take action. Whatever I and you choose to do can make a difference to the fight against cancer. Collectively, we can do the following to prevent cancer;

We can all call on governments to step up their response to cancer by pushing for actions that we know will reduce premature deaths, and improve quality of life and increase cancer survival rates.

We can prevent cancer by equipping individuals and communities with the latest knowledge of the links between lifestyle and cancer can empower people to adopt healthy choices. Individuals and communities need to be informed that more than a third of cancers are preventable through adopting healthy behaviours.

We can create healthy schools. Every school can foster a culture of healthy choices and habits by providing nutritious food and drink choices, as well as time for recreation and sport, and putting practical education about food and physical activity on the school curriculum.

We can create a healthy work place. With the global labour force predicted to rise to 3.5 billion by 2030, there is a tremendous opportunity to harness the workplace as a platform for cancer prevention and early detection (UICC, 20140). Employers can implement measures in the workplace that will motivate and sustain healthy habits throughout a person’s everyday life.

We can create healthy cities. With 66% of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, the quality of the urban environment will play an increasingly important role in public health (WHO, 2016). Cities can take the lead in creating a quality urban environment that promotes and protects the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

We can support others to return to work. Employers can create a workplace culture where employees with a cancer diagnosis are encouraged to know that when they return to work they will be supported to adapt to the challenges they face from their illness. By providing the right support, employers and co-workers can foster a successful transition back to work for cancer patients.

We can challenge perceptions. Governments, communities, schools, employers and media can challenge perceptions about cancer and dispel damaging myths and misconceptions so that all people are empowered to access accurate cancer information and quality cancer prevention and care. Specific efforts are required to improve knowledge of cancer, counter misinformation and reduce stigma among all communities. Supporting awareness campaigns such as World Cancer Day can be a powerful platform to challenge negative beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate myths about cancer.

We can improve access to cancer care. We can advocate for improved access to cancer treatment and services across the care continuum. All people have the right to benefit from these interventions on equal terms, regardless of geography and without suffering economic hardship as a consequence.

We can shape policy change. The law and regulatory measures can be used effectively to reduce exposure to cancer risks including to tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods, as well as environmental exposures. Effective advocacy for policy change at all levels - local, national, and global – can reduce exposure to cancer risk factors and improve access and availability of essential cancer medicines and quality cancer care.

We can build a quality cancer care workforce. Inadequate education of healthcare providers is one of the most pervasive and urgent obstacles to address in delivering quality cancer care. The cancer workforce can be equipped with the skills, knowledge and competencies required to meet the needs of individuals and communities across the cancer continuum.

We can inspire action. We can take action. The economic case is a vital piece of the puzzle to change mind-sets around the value of investing in cancer prevention, early detection and control. This is because it is cheaper to prevent cancer than to treat it.

We can join forces to make a difference. Joining forces to create innovative and multi-sectoral partnerships is a key step in mobilizing civil society, strengthening advocacy efforts and making governments accountable. Uniting around common goals will drive action on all fronts – in prevention, early detection, treatment and care - catalyzing progress towards achieving the World Cancer Declaration targets.

This is what I can do to prevent cancer;

I can make healthy life choices. Everyone can take steps to reduce their risk of cancer by choosing healthy options including quitting smoking, keeping physically active and choosing healthy food and drinks.

I can understand that early detection saves life. Diagnosing cancer isn’t always easy. Not all cancers show early signs and symptoms and other warning signs appear quite late when the cancer is advanced. However, for a number of cancers, increasing awareness of signs and symptoms and the importance of timely treatment has been shown to improve survival from cancer. This is because finding cancer early almost always makes it easier to treat or even cure.

I can take control of my cancer journey. People living with cancer can take control of their cancer journey by being empowered to be active participants in decisions about their care, having their choices respected and their needs met.

I can love and be loved. Cancer affects everyone in a patient’s life in different ways. Partners, families and friends can take steps to work together through the challenges of cancer and its treatment so that no one faces the disease alone. For a person living with cancer, strong emotional support and loving relationships with partners, friends and families can make a big difference in their life.

I can ask for support. Maintaining social support networks and talking about cancer can be important strategies for coping with the social and emotional impact of cancer, both in the short and long term.

I can make my voice heard. People living with cancer and their families, friends and caregivers can be powerful advocates for others dealing with the disease. By making their voices heard, individuals can be powerful agents of influence and change for all people affected by cancer.

I can return to work. Many people living with cancer want to return to work. They mention both financial and emotional reasons for going back to work, with a job restoring normality, stability, social contact and income.

Innocent Atuhe,
Executive Director
Uganda Cancer Fund

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