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For Immediate Release: September 7, 2011
Contact: Mya Nelson, m.nelson@aicr.org, 202-328-7744 x3047

UN Summit Represents “Once-in-a-Generation” Opportunity to Address 2.8 Million Preventable Cancers


UN Headquarters buildingNext week's United Nations (UN) Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease offers a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to avoid a public health disaster, experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) said today.

AICR issued the warning as it released estimates that globally, approximately 2.8 million cancer cases a year are linked to diet, physical activity and weight, a figure that is expected to rise dramatically over the next 10 years.

The number of global cancers has increased by 20 percent in less than a decade and now stands at 12 million new cases a year, more than four times the 2.6 million annual number of new HIV infections.

NCDs represent a threat to the whole world and, in particular, to developing countries, with global rates of heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease expected to soar. The UN is holding the high-level Summit on September 19 and 20 to address what can be done to reduce this growing disease burden.

On September 7th, the World Cancer Research Fund International – of which AICR is a member – held a press conference in London to raise awareness of this crucial global opportunity. You can watch an archived video stream of the conference.

A Historic Meeting

It is only the second time in the UN's history that a health issue is receiving such a high level of global attention. AICR, along with its partners in the World Cancer Research Fund global network, is concerned that failure to develop robust global and national policy for NCD prevention will lead to millions of preventable deaths. AICR is calling on President Obama to attend the Summit in person to demonstrate his commitment to tackling NCDs in the U.S. and around the world.

AICR Vice President Deirdre McGinley-Gieser said: "Cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases are one of the biggest challenges we face today and the UN Summit later this month represents a real chance to turn the tide.

"With millions of lives at risk around the world, the stakes are incredibly high. And while this is an issue facing millions globally, every day in the U.S. people are being diagnosed with a cancer that could have been prevented. Yet many people are still unaware that risk factors such as alcohol and obesity affect cancer risk.

"At the same time, many aspects of our society – from advertising to food prices – are working to discourage people from adopting healthy habits. But this Summit offers the chance to look at public health issues at the international level."

Cancer Rates Rising in Developing World

While cancer rates are highest in wealthier countries where people tend to be more overweight and less physically active, cancer and other non-communicable diseases are increasingly affecting developing countries, many of which do not have the health infrastructure to cope with a large increase in cancer cases and are barely managing now.

McGinley-Gieser continued: "We tend to think of cancer and other diseases like heart disease and diabetes as largely being a problem for the developed world. But even poor countries are seeing increasing obesity rates as people eat more processed food and become less active.

"Already there are 7 million cancer cases diagnosed a year in the developing world and that number is likely to rise dramatically. Unless we act now to prevent cancer and other NCDs, the charity appeals of the future will not just be for disasters and famines, but to pay for cancer care. It truly is a global health problem of great magnitude, and one that threatens workforce productivity and the world's economy."

A Precious Opportunity

"However, this is not inevitable. If governments around the world show real leadership now, this Summit could lead to the kind of changes that would spare millions of people the needless suffering of being diagnosed with cancer.

"But if the Summit does not lead to this kind of change, we will look back at this once-in-a-generation international event as a missed opportunity to stem the rising tide of lifestyle-related diseases."

AICR and WCRF International will be among the civil society organizations attending the Summit in New York next week.

Notes to editors:

  • Incidence data on new HIV cases is taken from the World Health Organization
  • The aim of the September 2011 UN Summit is to bring Heads of State and other representatives from the UN member states together to agree on commitments to tackle the growing global burden of cancer and other NCDs. These commitments will be agreed in an official Summit Outcomes Document, which will detail the commitments made by countries around the world.
  • The four major NCDs are: cancer, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Globally, two in every three deaths are caused by NCDs and NCDs are a serious problem in all regions of the world and affect high, middle and low-income countries. NCDs share a number of common risk factors, such as tobacco use, obesity, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.



The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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