Saving lives and relieve economic burden of cancers: three challenges

Cancer is a disease, about which even some societies do not speak, the patient is isolated and stays only with his/her closest relatives by the final day. The degeneration of cells in the body suddenly turns patient's life, hopes and plans. This is the tragedy of a single member of society and his/her family. Another part of the problem is the heavy financial burden, amounting to billions of dollars worldwide, which lies on national economies, and it is not only the direct medical costs for treatment and care, but also the indirect costs: reduction of productivity and economic growth. Is it possible to successfully combat this scourge, which affects the state economy, and potentially any member of the society? As international practice shows, it is possible.

According to statistics provided by the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and other international specialized organizations, about 12.7 - 12.9 million cancer patients have been recorded worldwide in 2009. The disease kills more than 7.5 million people every year. The global economic costs, including expenditures on research and development ($19 billion), amounted to about $300 billion last year, of which over half accounted for medical expenses, and a quarter on the loss of productivity (reduction in the number of man-hours and the volume of production due to treatment or disability). According to forecasts of Economist Intelligence Unit, the number of cancer patients will double in 2030 compared to the current and will make up 27 million compared to 17 million deaths. Finally, more than half of new cases and two thirds of deaths from cancer today occur in developing countries with low income, below average and above average.

The largest number of patients (the latest data of the State Statistics Committee for 2008) was women diagnosed with breast cancer. Next are the lung cancer patients. The third most common type of cancer in Azerbaijan is the cancer of the stomach. The data for other three common diseases in the world is the prostate cancer, liver cancer and cervical cancer, the data on which in Azerbaijan's statistics are not available. The total number of patients registered in hospitals (2008) amounted to 25,472 people. Standardized mortality rate from malignant neoplasms in 2007 (latest available data) in Azerbaijan, according to WHO (WHO-Europe), totaled 87.39 for each hundred thousand people. It is estimated that the share of economically active (working) population amongst the total number of patients in Azerbaijan is about 55-60%.

According to forecasts by Economist Intelligence Unit, by 2030, 70% of direct and indirect financial losses associated with cancer will account for developing countries. One of the main causes of higher mortality rates in these countries compared with developed countries is the late discovery of the disease when treatment is less successful, or more expensive. Experts agree in opinion that about 40% of cases could potentially be prevented if the disease is detected in its early stages, as well as if the risk factors are lowered: a constant psychological stress, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, air pollution. The second main reason is the increase in the number of smokers and tobacco consumption in developing countries. In the U.S., Japan and developed European countries, the economic costs are associated primarily with the aging of the population (the largest group of risk), as well as more contemporary and expensive treatments.

Given the current situation in Azerbaijan, there are three basic issues solution of which would help reduce economic losses in form of financial costs borne by society and the state. Some of them need to be stipulated in law.

First, it needs to return to legislation that would ban smoking in public places, while raising prices on tobacco products. Discussion of the draft law at the Parliament of Azerbaijan was suspended last autumn on the pretext that it is untimely. Absolutely all the international and local experts agree that smoking, including passive, is one of the major causes of cancer. It needs to remember that the cancer of the trachea and lungs ranks first in the world for its number and the second in Azerbaijan.

Secondly, given the leadership of the breast cancer in Azerbaijan, there is a need for compulsory medical examination (mammograms) for women with forty years on a regular basis. In most countries, this survey is a recommendation, but in order to bring down this tendency in Azerbaijan, today it needs at least temporarily, but the coercive measures. This will help detect disease at an early stage with the likelihood to save patients' lives.

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