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World Cancer Day Seeks to Bust Dangerous Cancer Myths

Update Date: Feb 04, 2013 12:27 PM EST

Today is World Cancer Day! While cancer treatments have come a long way over the years, the day indicates that we have yet a long way to go. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cancer is the single greatest cause of death in the world, responsible for 13 percent of deaths in 2008, and outpacing deaths attributable to other killers HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. On this day, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) has dedicated the moment to combating myths about the disease in an effort to move us, if not toward the beginning of the end, to the end of the beginning.

The UICC is targeting four specific pernicious myths: that cancer is just a health issue; that it is a disease for wealthy, elderly countries; that it is a death sentence; and that it is your fate.

Cancer is not simply a health issue; it also is a social, economic and gender one. As the Dubai Chronicle reports, cancer can plunge poor families even deeper into poverty since it often means that at least one family member cannot work. It also affects women disproportionately; cervical and breast cancer account for 750,000 deaths a year.

Though many people believe that cancer is simply a fate that befalls wealthy countries, the World Health Organization notes that 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. However, as USA Today reports, better sanitation and vaccination means that people in developing countries are living longer than ever before. In a mismatch, policymakers and health workers often concentrate their efforts primarily on diseases that disproportionately target children. That means that cancer treatments can be inaccessible in significant portions of developing nations - even pain management, which would seem to be relatively easy to get, is primarily available to just five regions: just 10 percent of medications like morphine is available to 80 percent of the world.

Cancer is no longer a death sentence either. As Forbes mentions,  the United States' cancer death rate dropped by over 20 percent in 20 years - amounting to an additional 1.2 million lives. Though many people view cancer in a fatalistic manner, diet, exercise and a healthy body weight would go a long way toward preventing cancer. WHO says that 30 percent of cancers can be prevented.

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