Helen Zorbas: 2014 World Cancer Congress

Helen ZorbasLast week in Melbourne, I had the privilege of joining influential leaders from the international cancer community as over 2800 delegates from 112 different countries came together for the World Cancer Congress, held for the first time in Australia.

The congress highlighted the substantial impact cancer has on nations across the world, and confirmed Australia’s position as a world leader in cancer control.

Worldwide, 8.2 million deaths were attributed to cancer in 2012, exceeding the number of deaths of any other specific disease grouping. By 2025, it is estimated that this number will increase to 11.4 million.

More than two thirds of these new cases are predicted to occur in less developed regions, showing that cancer is not only a first world disease.

The World Cancer Leaders’ Summit is a one day, invite only event held in conjunction with the World Cancer Congress. Cancer Australia, together with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, hosted a screening session at the summit that generated substantial interest, while showcasing Australia’s successful bowel, cervical, and breast screening programs. The session examined the case for screening—taking into account local factors in countries with different income levels—in an effort to replicate the high survival rates experienced in Australia.

The introduction of plain packaging on tobacco products and the use of electronic cigarettes were also hot topics, and the congress didn’t miss the opportunity to spark up a lively debate during a session on the harms and benefits of e-cigarettes and their potential use in tobacco control and smoking cessation. Clearly, contention still exists over the use of the electronic inhalers, and it is evident that there is a need for further research to be undertaken.

Another of the sessions that proved to be very popular came when award winning investigative journalist Dr Norman Swan moderated a discussion focusing on the benefits of involving consumers at all levels of cancer control. The highly interactive workshop challenged participants, while demonstrating best practice approaches to meaningful consumer engagement. Consumer engagement is an area where Cancer Australia leads the world and has developed a number of internationally applicable resources.

The use of social and traditional media in raising awareness and implementing behavioral change was also a recurring topic of interest. Congress participants were shown successful campaigns from across the world; including the Canadian Cancer Society’s testicular cancer awareness video “Nutiquette,” and Thai Health’s anti-tobacco “Smoking Kid” campaign. Delegates were also presented with statistics showing how the use of powerful online campaigns could reach incredible audience numbers—both nationally and across the world.

One of the great rewards of attending the World Cancer Congress was not only meeting with international counterparts, but also identifying common challenges and sharing internationally applicable strategies to reduce the impact of cancer.

The World Cancer Congress is a landmark event in the international cancer control calendar, and I would like to acknowledge the Union for International Cancer Control and Cancer Council Australia for hosting the highly successful 2014 event.

Dr Helen Zorbas is the CEO of Cancer Australia, the Australian Government’s lead authority in cancer control.

Competing interests: None declared.