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World Cancer Day 2021: IAEA Continues Fight Against Cancer in the Face of COVID-19

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World Cancer Day 2021

Recognizing the challenges presented by the COVID‐19 pandemic and rallying efforts under the theme, ‘I am and I will,’ this year’s World Cancer Day provides an opportunity to commend medical professionals, caregivers, policy makers, researchers and advocates whose work continued unabated, despite the global pandemic.

The goal of World Cancer Day, 4 February, is to raise awareness of cancer and catalyse action towards a future free of the disease. The global cancer burden has risen to 19.3 million cases and 10 million cancer deaths in 2020, an increase from 18.1 million cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018, according to the latest research from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Much of this increase has been in developing countries, which the research indicates will continue to experience the greatest relative increases in cancer incidence by 2040.

Through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, the Human Health Programme and the technical cooperation programme, the IAEA helps counterparts and specialists around the world to enhance their clinical capacities, deploy new technologies, implement best practices and expand access to life-saving services, while maintaining patient and staff safety.

The IAEA has developed guidelines to help nuclear medicine departments minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections among patients, staff and visitors. (Photo: J. Vitola/Quanta Diagnóstico por Imagem)

Adjusting to COVID-19

In March and April, as much of the world entered lockdown, the IAEA responded accordingly by providing virtual guidance and addressing the effects of the pandemic.

Nuclear techniques for cancer

Facing social distancing measures, the IAEA ensured that national lockdowns did not hinder pertinent studies or prevent stakeholders from keeping up with the latest uses of nuclear techniques to diagnose and treat cancer.

  • Scientists working together through an IAEA Coordinated Research Project developed two new nanoparticles that hold promise for a new generation of nanosized radiopharmaceuticals, which could dramatically improve early detection and therapy of various forms of cancers.
  • In December, more than 60 practicing physicians, technologists, medical physicists and radiopharmacists from 19 African countries attended a regional training course to explore the latest advances in nuclear medicine and cancer diagnosis.
  • The IAEA engaged closely with its network of partner organizations to devise new strategies to address this new double burden of cancer and COVID-19 at the World Health Summit (WHS) and at the Executive Board meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in October 2020 and January 2021, respectively. At the WHS, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi shared results of an IAEA survey that was conducted to understand the global COVID-19 impact on key health services to diagnose and treat chronic conditions, such as cancer.

Expanding partnerships

In 2020, new partnerships were forged to bring together stakeholders of the global cancer community, leveraging the competencies of partner organizations to help expand access to effective, safe and sustainable cancer prevention, diagnostics and treatment services.

Missions go virtual

In collaboration with the WHO and IARC, the IAEA conducts imPACT Reviews to evaluate a country’s capacities to help in the planning and implementation of comprehensive cancer control programmes.

  • In 2020, imPACT missions assumed a new virtual format, allowing IAEA experts to continue delivering valuable assessments of needs and capacities, throughout the global pandemic.
  • These reviews are currently underway and are at varying stages of implementation in six countries, including Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Nepal and Senegal.

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