Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 3 February 2021. In the Caribbean region, cancer is the second leading cause of death. However, a significant number of cancer deaths can largely be prevented through primary prevention, screening and early detection, timely diagnosis and treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 30% and 50% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies.
“Breast and cervical cancer are the leading causes of cancer deaths in women and in Caribbean men, prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths, followed by lung cancer. This can have a significant negative societal impact in our Region. Cervical cancer is perhaps the most preventable through education, screening, early detection, treatment and vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV), and Caribbean countries must work towards the elimination of cervical cancer,” stated Dr Joy St John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
A person’s risk of developing cancer can be substantially reduced through the adoption of healthy lifestyles and the practice of suitable health seeking behaviours. This can go a long way toward reducing cancer risks and the associated personal and financial costs. Prevention measures include avoiding the use of tobacco, limiting alcohol use, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and participation in early detection and screening programmes.
With the emergence of COVID-19, people with cancer are more likely to have complications if infected with COVID-19 due to their compromised immune system. It has also been noted that people who have COVID-19 and an underlying condition such as cancer have higher mortality than those without cancer and other chronic diseases. People with cancer are encouraged to protect themselves against the COVID-19 virus:
- When in public, practice social distancing
- Wash your hands frequently, always avoid touching your face.
- Stay away from anyone who you know is sick
- Wear a face mask for protection if you must leave home to go to crowded areas.
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- If you feel ill, contact your health practitioner
A growing recognition of the increasing burden of NCDs regionally and the need for stronger surveillance systems to track cancers have been driving factors in cancer registration efforts in the region to date. Current work to strengthen cancer registration in the Caribbean is coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Caribbean Cancer Registry Hub established at CARPHA.
CARPHA is committed to working with key partners to reduce the burden of cancer in the Region. Through the Caribbean Hub’s work, Ministries of Health, and cancer registries in CARPHA Member States have benefitted from advocacy, technical support, training, and capacity building for strengthening cancer registration. This has contributed to an improvement in the availability and quality of cancer data, needed to support decision making for improving cancer prevention and control in the Caribbean.
The Agency also works with other CARICOM agencies and international institutions to impact trade agreements and influence the availability and access to healthy foods to support the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cancer.
The theme for World Cancer Day from 2019 to 2021 is "I Am and I Will”. This year is a reminder of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action. When we choose to come together, we can achieve what we all wish for: a world without cancer. The fight to reduce cancer deaths cannot be achieved in isolation. On February 4, CARPHA joins its Member States and the rest of the world to unite to make cancer prevention a health priority. Everyone can help reduce the burden of cancer by playing our part. Together, all of our actions matter. This World Cancer Day, what will you do?