Global Survey Highlights Disparities in Cancer Knowledge

There are gaps in knowledge between socioeconomic and education status regarding cancer knowledge, according to a survey conducted in honor of World Cancer Day.

Disparities still exist between income and educational levels when it comes to knowledge about cancer risk factors and prevention, according to a global survey conducted by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

Every February 4, the UICC leads World Cancer Day. This year, the organization is using the day to raise awareness about these knowledge gaps.

“It is unacceptable that millions of people have a greater chance of developing cancer in their lifetime, because they are simply not aware of the cancer risks to avoid and the healthy behaviors to adopt — information many of us take for granted,” Dr. Cary Adams, CEO of the UICC said in a press release. “And this is true around the world.”

Survey Reveals Disparities

The survey included responses from more than 15,000 individuals representing 20 countries. According to the results, there is a high level of awareness for certain cancer risks, namely tobacco use (63% of respondents recognized it as a risk), exposure to harmful UV rays (54%), and second-hand tobacco smoke exposure (50%). However, other risk factors, including lack of exercise (28%), exposure to certain viruses and bacteria (28%) and being overweight (29%) were not nearly as well recognized.

People from lower-income households were less likely to recognize cancer risk factors and prevention measures, as were those without university-level education, compared to their counterparts from higher-income households and with university-level education, respectively.

A Call for Government Action

Eighty-four percent of survey participants said that their government should take action against cancer, with nearly a third indicating that the most important step would be for governments to make cancer services more affordable. This was emphasized in lower- and middle-income countries.

The UICC is urging governments worldwide to:

  • Prioritize cancer awareness and prevention knowledge
  • Ensure that individuals have up-to-date information on cancer risk and prevention
  • Implement policies to reduce the use of known cancer-causing products
  • Invest in cancer control planning and establish population-based cancer registries
  • Continue to raise awareness with each new generation

“To tackle the global cancer burden now and for the future, governments and decisionmakers across the international cancer community must come together to ensure that everyone is afforded every opportunity to take control over their cancer risk — no matter their education or income level,” said UICC president HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, in the statement.

Individual-Level Change

Governments are not the only entities that can take a stand against cancer.

Through their “I Am and I Will” campaign, the UICC is calling on people to take World Cancer Day as an opportunity to learn more about the disease and its risk factors; make a personal commitment to reduce risk; and take advantage of all that their health systems can provide, including screenings, check-ups, and vaccinations.