BERLIN - CANCER is a bigger killer in developing countries than tuberculosis, malaria and Aids combined and a 'tsunami' of the disease threatens to overwhelm the nations worst equipped to cope, experts said on Tuesday.
While only about 5 per cent of global resources for cancer are spent in developing countries, the burden of the disease is far greater there, they said, with 60 per cent of last year's 7.6 million cancer deaths occurring in poorer nations.
Women-specific cancers like breast and cervical cancer, which account for more than a quarter of all female deaths worldwide, could be dramatically cut in low and middle-income nations by improving awareness and detection, they said.
'There are tens of millions of people living with cancer or at risk of cancer in low and middle-income countries who do not benefit from all these advances,' said Anne Reeler, who launched a report on cancer in poorer countries at the ECCO-ESMO European cancer congress in Berlin.
Dr Reeler noted that while experts gathered in Berlin to discuss ground-breaking and often highly expensive medical advances that may help cancer sufferers in the rich world, poorer nations have almost no access to even the most basic treatments.
'In Ethiopia, for instance, what we often find is that by the time women come to a clinic they literally have a tumour protruding through the breast,' she said. 'They've spent two years going to see traditional healers and using holy water, and when they come to clinics it's too late to do anything for them.
'So awareness - getting rid of the myth that cancer kills and you can do nothing about it - is really important.' Oncology experts expect a doubling of cancer cases across the world in the next 20 years and estimate that more than half of the 12.4 million new cases in 2008 occurred in low and middle income countries, a pattern predicted to continue.
David Kerr, a contributor to the report by a international cancer working group called CanTreat, and a professor of cancer medicine at Britain's Oxford University, said this was 'wake-up call' for those concerned about the developing world.
'If there is a coming tsunami of cancer, and there surely is, then now is when we need to start working together to develop new models of cancer care so that we are prepared for it in the developing world,' he told Reuters.
'We are facing a huge increase in cancer burden, and that burden will fall predominantly in those countries which are least well-equipped to deal with it - no infrastructure, no training, no docs, no nurses, no gadgets, no nothing.'