World Cancer Day Survey Examines Gaps in Cancer Knowledge


Disparities exist around the globe when it comes to understanding cancer risk factors and prevention measures.

Today, Feb. 4, 2020, is the 20th Annual World Cancer Day, led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). Each year, the UICC uses the day to promote action from individuals, governments and the global cancer community, with a focus on disparities in risk awareness and health-promoting behaviors between socioeconomic groups.

“It is unacceptable that millions of people have a greater chance of developing cancer in their lifetime because they are simply not aware of the cancer risks to avoid and the healthy behaviors to adopt — information many of us take for granted,” Dr. Cary Adams, CEO of the UICC, said in a press release. “And this is true around the world.”

Disparities Revealed

In honor of World Cancer Day, the UICC commissioned a global survey about people’s views and behaviors about cancer. The survey included more than 15,000 adults representing 20 different countries.

Results showed that there is a high level of awareness for certain cancer risks, namely tobacco use (63% of respondents recognized it as a risk), exposure to harmful UV rays (54%) and second-hand tobacco smoke exposure (50%). However, other risk factors, including lack of exercise (28%), exposure to certain viruses and bacteria (28%) and being overweight (29%) were not nearly as well recognized.

Overall, individuals from lower-income households tended to be less likely to recognize cancer risk factors than those from higher-income households. When it came to education, those with a university-level education were more likely to identify all cancer risk factors (with the exception of tobacco use) than their counterparts without a university education.

The survey also found that participants from a lower-income household and/or without a university-level degree were less likely to take precautions to decrease their risk of developing cancer.

Government Must Take Action

“To tackle the global cancer burden now and for the future, governments and decisionmakers across the international cancer community must come together to ensure that everyone is afforded every opportunity to take control over their cancer risk — no matter their education or income level,” said UICC president HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, in the statement.

The majority of survey responders (84%) said that governments should take action regarding cancer, while nearly a third said that it is most important for governments to make cancer services more affordable. This was particularly emphasized in lower- and middle-income countries.

The UICC is urging governments worldwide to:

  • Prioritize cancer awareness and prevention knowledge
  • Ensure that individuals have up-to-date information on cancer risk and prevention
  • Implement policies to reduce the use of known cancer-causing products
  • Invest in cancer control planning and establish population-based cancer registries
  • Continue to raise awareness with each new generation

Individuals Can Make Changes, Too

Individuals have opportunities to improve awareness, too. Through their “I Am and I Will” campaign, the UICC is calling on people to take World Cancer Day as an opportunity to learn more about the disease and its risk factors; make a personal commitment to reduce risk; and take advantage of all that their health systems can provide, including screenings, check-ups, and vaccinations.

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