Statistics are Human Beings with the Tears Wiped Away

Statistics are Human Beings with the Tears Wiped Away

March 23, 2015

March 17, 2015 – As part of a Series “Countering Cancer – 100 reports from the frontline“, Pfizer has published an interview with Professor Peter Boyle, President of iPRI.

Statistics are Human Beings with the Tears Wiped Away

Interview with Dr. Peter Boyle, President of the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France.

What do all the statistics really tell us about cancer?

Statistics tell us a lot about our world. They tell us that the total number of cancers is increasing every year. This increase is, on one hand, the result of population growth and aging around the world. On the other hand, we also see an increasing risk of cancer in developing countries, for example an increase of lung cancer in Africa and Asia due to smoking.

What is the greatest risk factor associated with cancer?

There is not a single risk factor, but lifestyle plays a major role and is theoretically the easiest to influence. Let’s look at lung cancer. In American and Europe, there has actually been a reduction in lung cancer incidence due to decreased smoking. We know that 80-90 percent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, but it has taken over 20 years to see those results statistically. There is a similar trend in colorectal cancer, which is also influenced by lifestyle, including healthier eating and exercise.

We hear about aging and cancer, but what does it mean?

Getting older is not what causes cancer, rather it is a representation of the cumulative effect of all the risk factors. Someone who is 60 has been exposed twice as long to cancer risk factors as someone who is 30. Risk factors are the problem, not age. That’s why it is important to reduce risk factors where ever possible.

What about new therapeutic advancements?

Targeted therapies have great potential and can have a significant impact, but require investment in infrastructure, education, and training. We need to invest in the laboratories that can identify the molecular targets. The problem here is the significant difference between developed and developing countries in their ability to invest in appropriate infrastructure. Without such investment, the gap between developed and developing countries will increase even further.

How can we prevent a further gap between developed and developing countries?

Private public partnerships are in my mind the best way forward. I don’t mean public private, it has to be the other way around. Private investment has to lead, and then public funding will follow. I am extremely impressed by the work the Gates Foundation has done in Africa. Their focus on vaccinations has been enormously successful. Concentrating on a single area over a longer period of time is essential for there to be any real impact.

After so many years on the frontline battling cancer, what makes you proud today?

I am very proud of two publications my institute published recently, which are both available on our website free of charge. One is a video recently released on World Cancer Day outlining the overarching priorities in the fight against cancer. In addition, our publication, The State of Oncology 2013, is a 450 page book outlining the global state of oncology. I feel strongly that the fight against cancer begins with knowledge and encourage everyone to use these materials to build their personal understanding for their own health and for our world today.

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