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World Cancer Day 2019: Leveraging Nuclear Science in the Fight Against Cancer


IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivers his remarks at the opening of the ‘Boosting Capacity for Cancer Care’ side event, held on 1 February. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

One-in-five men and one-in-six women will develop cancer during their lifetime, according to the latest research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Each year on 4 February, World Cancer Day provides the opportunity to reflect on these statistics and on the growing burden of the disease—before the end of 2019, 18.1 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed. As part of its mandate to promote and enlarge the contribution of nuclear techniques to development, the IAEA works alongside oncologists, radiotherapists and national policy-makers in its Member States to support the global campaign against the cancer epidemic.

The burden of cancer is increasingly pronounced in the developing world, where access to effective diagnostic services, treatment and palliative care is limited. By 2030, it is estimated that 72% of cancer-related deaths will occur in developing countries.

Committed to improving access to cancer therapy worldwide, the IAEA designs and implements projects, disseminates new technologies and techniques, and brings together in common cause stakeholders from across the globe. Recent achievements realized by the Agency include:

  • In Jordan, cancer has risen to become the second-most common cause of death, following cardiovascular diseases (CVD). At the same time, an influx of refugees, primarily from neighbouring Jordan, has increased the demands placed upon national health providers. In July 2018, the IAEA helped secure the donation of an advanced radiotherapy machine—provided by Elekta, an international oncology equipment vendor—on behalf of the Al-Bashir hospital in Amman, Jordan.
  • Each year, over 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed annually in children under the age of 14. A new partnership signed with Childhood Cancer International (CCI), however, will enhance the support provided by the IAEA to low- and middle-income countries in their fight against paediatric cancer.

Through its technical cooperation (TC) programme, the IAEA provides capacity-building support to enhance the quality of, and access to, cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment services in its Member States. Each year, in all four regions of the TC programme, hundreds of projects are implemented to procure equipment, to deliver specialized training and to promote broader awareness of cancer and its effects.

  • In Morocco, radiotherapy personnel from eight major teaching hospitals have benefitted from a national TC project which provided comprehensive training over the course of three years. In addition to delivering training courses to enhance the technical capacities of radiation oncologists and medical physicists, IAEA TC Fellowships were awarded to radiotherapy professionals in Rabat, Fès, Casablanca and Marrakesh.
  • Elsewhere in the African region, the IAEA launched a four-year project which is supporting 17 Member States as they produce and deploy vital radiopharmaceuticals for treating and managing cancer and other common diseases.
  • The University Clinic Center ‘Mother Theresa,’ the largest and the sole tertiary healthcare centre in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, benefitted from extensive support delivered through national TC projects. Following a series of expert missions, capacity building events and the delivery of a new single-photo emission computed tomography (SPECT) machine, the University Clinic is now better-placed to accurately and quickly diagnose cancers, as well as cardiovascular diseases.

In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and IARC, the IAEA conducts imPACT Reviews to evaluate a country’s capacities to plan and implement comprehensive cancer control programmes, through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).

  • In 2018, the Agency conducted imPACT Reviews in Afghanistan, Guyana, Indonesia, Mauritius, Mexico, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine The mission to Afghanistan was the first ever review of that country’s needs and capacities as they relate to cancer, whose incidence has precipitously risen in recent years. According to IARC, approximately 20,000 cancer cases were diagnosed in Afghanistan in 2012, and by 2030, that figure is expected to reach almost 33,000.

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