IAEA Nobel Prize Money Fights Cancer Crisis in Latin America

23 April 2007

More than 60 of the world's leading cancer experts were brought together in Buenos Aires, 23-27 April 2007, by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess Latin America's growing cancer burden.

Poor medical facilities and lack of trained personnel and funding are limiting countries' ability to expand cancer care services and treat patients, while cancer rates are expected to double by 2020. More than 70 per cent of all cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries and globally cancer kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) the IAEA is using funds, awarded for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, to sponsor training workshops, such as the Buenos Aires event, that alert policy makers and health experts to the pressing need for national cancer control plans and programmes.

“I hope that this event in Latin America is the first of many that will enable us to work together to help combat this dreadful disease and provide quality of life to our fellow human beings,” said Director General of the IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. “Cancer is a disease that is spreading very fast in the developing world and we have come to realise that we have to do much more to combat it in this part of the world.”

In Latin America, there are an estimated 450,000 cancer deaths annually. The most commonly occurring cancers in men are prostate, stomach, lung, and colorectal and in women the most commonly occurring cancers are breast, cervix, stomach and colorectal. Breast and cervical cancer can be prevented through screening and early detection and can be cured in the early stages with effective treatment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that cancer will soon reach epidemic proportions, causing up to 10 million deaths a year by 2020. Yet at least one third of all cancers are preventable. A further one third of cases can be effectively treated if detected early.

PACT was established in 2004 to help developing nations combat the growing cancer crisis. Building on the IAEA's 30 years of expertise in promoting radiotherapy, PACT's goal is to help develop more cancer treatment facilities and provide the trained personnel who can operate them in the world's developing regions and ensure that they are integrated into comprehensive cancer control programmes.

“PACT is building partnerships with the WHO and other international cancer-control organisations so that the battle against cancer can be waged at country level,” says the Head of PACT, Massoud Samiei. “This entails a broad multi-disciplinary approach that includes cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and palliation and, more importantly, education and training of professionals.”

The IAEA's share of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize award is also being devoted to training personnel from developing countries in the fight against cancer and malnutrition. Current estimates suggest that several billion US$ are needed if the cancer crisis in low and middle-income nations is to be contained effectively.

Initial funding for PACT comes from the IAEA and several non-traditional donors. PACT seeks to raise donor awareness of the cancer problem to mobilize new resources and enable developing countries to introduce, expand or improve their cancer control planning and programming, to provide services in a sustainable manner.

The meeting opened on Monday, 23 April, at Roffo Hospital. A press conference/panel discussion included the following opening session speakers:

Sessions focused on comprehensive cancer control, evidence-based radiation oncology and emerging techniques in radiotherapy planning and delivery. All sessions of the five-day meeting were open to journalists. The first two days were conducted in English and Spanish, while days 3-5 were conducted only in Spanish.