MANILA, 3 February 2012 - On the eve of World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments to strengthen national control programmes, including by raising awareness, amid an alarming rise of cancer cases.

WHO warned that there could be 21.4 million cancer cases worldwide by 2030 - up from 12.7 million in 2008 - with nearly two-thirds of them occurring in low- and medium-income countries. The poor often bear the heaviest burden of cancer as they have more exposure to risk factors and less access to preventive and therapeutic services.

"Well organized national cancer control programmes can help to reduce the burden and suffering of cancer," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

The theme for this year's World Cancer Day (4 February), as designated by the Union for International Cancer Control, is: "Together it is possible".

"We need to put our knowledge into action," Dr Shin says. "Cancer control should become everyone's responsibility. To win the battle against cancer, the health sector must join hands with other sectors - such as agriculture, education, the environment, the food industry, trade, and transportation."

WHO's Western Pacific Region bears a significant share of the global cancer burden, accounting for 32% of all cancers in 2008. There were slightly more than 4 million new cases of cancer in the region in 2008 - 2.31 million in men and 1.75 million in women. Nearly 2.6 million people in the region died from cancer in that year.

The most common cancers among men in the Region are of the lung, stomach, liver, colorectum and oesophagus. For women, they are of the breast, lung, stomach, colorectum and liver.

WHO says that 30% of all cancers could be prevented by modifying or avoiding such major risk factors as:

- tobacco use
- overweight and obesity
- low fruit and vegetable intake
- physical inactivity
- alcohol use
- infection by the human papilloma (HPV) and hepatitis B viruses
- urban air pollution
- indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels
- overexposure to sunlight.

WHO also stressed the need for palliative care for people with advanced stages of cancer. For patients where a cure is not possible, effective integrated hospital, community and home-based care are essential to give pain relief and palliative care for patients and their families.