World Cancer Day 2013 targets cancer myths

CN Tower
In honour of World Cancer Day, the orange and blue of the Union for International Cancer Control shone all night on the CN Tower in Toronto.

Today, the Partnership is marking World Cancer Day by joining hundreds of organizations globally to help debunk common myths and misconceptions about cancer.

“Cancer control is advancing rapidly,” says Dr. Heather Bryant, the Partnership’s Vice-President of Cancer Control and UICC Board Member. “Survival rates for many cancers are much better.[1] More cancers are being found earlier through screening programs and are easier to treat successfully. Side effects are often fewer. Pain management is improving.”

A recent international study about population awareness, beliefs and care-seeking behaviours relating to cancer survival outcomes suggest that despite the changes in the cancer domain there are still people who are delaying going to the doctor, ignoring the early signs of cancer, believe cancer is a death sentence and are afraid of the treatment itself.

A data sample from all Canadian provinces found that individuals being worried about what may be found (28%) and being too busy (25%) were the two most common reasons for delaying a visit to the doctor. Other barriers for seeking help included reluctance to waste the doctors’ time and embarrassment.

Interestingly while the majority of Canadians (97%) agree that seeking care quickly can increase the chance of survival, some are not seeking help in the recommended time. As an example, almost 30% of individuals who experience rectal bleeding seek care after the recommended time of one week.

Approximately a quarter (26%) of Canadians also believe that a diagnosis of cancer is considered a death sentence and over half (59%) believe that the treatment for cancer is worse than cancer itself.

“Some individuals believe that cancer is ‘meant to be’ so they think there’s nothing they can do. We know that screening can catch some cancers before they start and the risk of others can be reduced. We all need good information about the advances in cancer control, as well as the challenges, so that decisions are based on the best evidence available. It’s important to have the facts,” says Dr. Bryant.

The study is an initiative of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP). The ICBP brings together clinicians, academics and policy-makers from Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom to examine how and why cancer survival rates vary among jurisdictions. The insights the ICBP generates will help optimize policies and services to improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Myths and reality

This year’s World Cancer Day is focused on dispelling four widely held beliefs about cancer:

  • Myth: Cancer is just a health issue.
  • Myth: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries.
  • Myth: Cancer is a death sentence.
  • Myth: Cancer is my fate.

To learn more about each myth, please visit the World Cancer Day website.

World Cancer Day

World Cancer Day unites stakeholders from around the world every year, on February 4th, to raise awareness of the global cancer epidemic. It is coordinated by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and is supported internationally by the world’s major cancer societies, ministries of health, research institutes, treatment centres and patient groups, including the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

Canadian activities

Organizations across Canada are participating in a number of World Cancer Day initiatives. In Toronto, Partnership CEO Shelly Jamieson is a panellist at the World Cancer Day event hosted by the Campaign to Control Cancer, MaRS Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. The CN Tower in Toronto will be lit in blue and orange on February 4th to recognize World Cancer Day.

For more information about World Cancer Day activities, please visit


1 Statistics published by the Canadian Cancer Society show declining death rates for lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. Overall, Canadian cancer death rates fell by 21% in men and 9% in women between 1988 and 2007.