The Empire of All Maladies expands

Wednesday, 5 February, 2014

World Cancer Report 2014 Worldwide, some 14 million people a year are diagnosed with cancer and the number will almost double by 2030 says the World Health Organization (WHO), which has just published its World Cancer Report 2014. According to the 600-page work, lung cancer leads the list of the most common cancers with 13.3 percent of all cases worldwide in 2012. This was followed by breast cancer (11.9 percent) and colon cancer (9.7 percent).

The authors of the WHO report declare that the projected 70 percent increase in cancer over the next two decades is linked to people in emerging economies copying the harmful behaviours of those in richer states, especially when it comes to eating, drinking, smoking and physical inactivity. Add obesity and pollution into the mix and you’ve got The Emperor of All Maladies gone global.

“The landscape of carcinogens is not static. We are chemical apes: having discovered the capacity to extract, purify, and react molecules to produce new and wondrous molecules, we have begun to spin a new chemical universe around ourselves. Our bodies, our cells, our genes are thus being immersed and reimmersed in a changing flux of molecules — pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs, plastics, cosmetics, estrogens, food products, hormones, even novel forms of physical impulses, such as radiation and magnetism. Some of these, inevitably, will be carcinogenic. We cannot wish this world away; our task, then, is to sift through it vigilantly to discriminate bona fide carcinogens from innocent and useful bystanders.” Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies

But there is some good news. More and more cancer patients are surviving a disease that was once regarded as a death sentence, and thanks to early detection, mortality from cancer is in decline, which means that up to half of those affected can expect to be cured. In light of this, some are suspicious that the constant alarm about cancer could be a stalking horse for all kinds of new restrictions on everyday activities from the breakfast fry to the pint in the pub at night.

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