World Cancer Day was recognized on Feb. 4 and marked an opportunity to acknowledge there is serious cause for concern about cancer as a growing international health problem. Cancer incidence and death rates are climbing rapidly in the developing world. By 2030, it is estimated that of the more than 20 million global cancer deaths, nearly two-thirds will occur in developing countries.
NCI director Dr. Harold Varmus has made improving global cancer health among his top priorities. He has formed a Center for Global Health (CGH) to better coordinate and expand the institute’s global research activities. Ted Trimble, director of CGH, and Varmus agreed that the opportunity and the obligation to address the global burden of cancer have never been greater. They believe NCI’s expanding efforts in the global health arena can build on the strong foundation created by the success in combatting infectious diseases like malaria and AIDS.
High incidence of specific cancers in certain areas of the world is a priority for further research. For example, the east coast of Africa, from South Africa to Somalia, has a strikingly high incidence of esophageal cancer, while Chile has the highest rate of gallbladder cancer of any country in the world. NCI is working with researchers from around the world to help them better understand why certain cancers are so prevalent in their countries, collaborating on epidemiologic and molecular biology studies and developing clinical trials to test new prevention and treatment interventions.
CGH is already working across NCI to develop proposals for a variety of research projects that can influence care beyond U.S. borders, including expanding clinical trials run by NCI-funded cooperative groups to include more sites outside the United States. As more is learned about the molecular biology of different cancers, there is a need to cast a global net to quickly accrue patients to important scientific studies.
Conducting and supporting cancer control and treatment research outside of the U.S. is nothing new to NCI. The institute has longstanding programs and research collaborations in places such as the Middle East and China.
More recently, NCI has initiated research collaborations in Latin America. In 2009, NCI formally launched a network involving five Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. Since that time, Columbia, Peru and Puerto Rico have also joined.