Noncommunicable diseases

Lung and oral cancer leading causes of death in men

Cancer in South-East Asia

Oloan Gultom was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2011. He is 40 years old, married and has a young son. Before the illness, he worked as a tyre fitter, earning around US$ 4 a day in Indonesia. The family is now struggling to make ends meet.

“When the doctor explained that I had lung cancer, I was in shock and kept saying: ‘Are you sure doctor?’ ‘How could this happen to me?’” says Gultomm. “We are poor. How will I pay for the treatment?” he worries. He had been smoking since he was 15 and had no idea that it could cause lung cancer.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide accounting for 7.6 million deaths in 2008. An estimated 1.13 million deaths occurred due to cancers in the WHO’s South-East Asia Region alone in 2008. Lung and oral cancers are the most common cancers among men in WHO’s South-East Asia Region. Cervical and breast cancers are leading cancers among women.

There is evidence that at least one third of all cancer cases are preventable. Therefore WHO gives prevention high priority. While some of these prevention techniques may be difficult to practice at an individual level, there are several healthy habits we can live by in order to greatly reduce the risk factors of cancer.

Tobacco is perhaps the single most avoidable risk factor for cancer mortality as it causes approximately 22% of cancer deaths per year globally. The Region is home to 250 million smokers and an equal number of smokeless tobacco users.

“I started smoking at school about 25 years ago. There was a lot of pressure to smoke back then. If you didn’t smoke, all the other boys would tease you and say you’re not a real man,” recalls Gultom.

Since being diagnosed with cancer six months ago, Gultom has finally quit smoking.

About 30% of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioural and dietary risks: being overweight, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use.

“When my five-year old son grows up, I do not want him to smoke. He should know how harmful smoking is. I want him to tell others of the dangers of smoking, what it has done to his father and how it causes cancer.”

Cancer mortality can be reduced if cases are detected and treated early. Every year, on 4 February, WHO supports the International Union Against Cancer in order to raise global awareness and knowledge of cancer. This year, World Cancer Day will focus on dispelling damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer.