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Millions die in cancer pain

5th October 2007

Millions of people around the world suffer from moderate to severe pain related to cancers which goes untreated, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has said.

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In a statement announcing its newly launched guide to palliative care, WHO said palliative care was an urgent need in poorer countries where cancers were often diagnosed too late to be treated. It estimates 4.8 million people annually suffer from cancer-related pain that did not receive treatment.

The guide provides low-cost models for terminally ill cancer patients in developing countries which aim to integrate palliative care services into existing health systems, with a special emphasis on community and home-based care, it said.

Officials and healthcare workers in developing countries often could afford to buy cheap opiates, but hold back out of fear and because of the social and political stigma surrounding such drugs, recent reports have said.

The guide, based on consultations with more than 70 leading cancer experts around the world, is aimed largely at public health planners, and sets out guidelines for conducting a national situation analysis and response review, mapping the burden of cancers in advanced stages against existing services.

In 2005, out of 58 million deaths worldwide 7.6 million were due to cancer. More than 70% of all cancer deaths occur in developing countries, where resources available for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are limited or nonexistent.

Based on WHO projections, cancer deaths will continue to rise, with an estimated nine million people dying from cancer in 2015, and 11.4 million dying in 2030.

WHO says, however, that more than 40% of cancers are preventable, and many others can be treated and cured with good screening and early diagnoses.

And where treatment comes too late, the suffering of patients can be greatly relieved with palliative care, it says.


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