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Fight tobacco marketing, boost vaccinations to curb cancer, says report

An Indonesian youth holds a cigarette while waiting for a train in Jakarta May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Beawiharta
An Indonesian youth holds a cigarette while waiting for a train in Jakarta May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Beawiharta

LONDON (Reuters) - Fighting the tobacco industry's tactics in the world's poorest countries and ensuring the best vaccines get to those most in need are key to cutting the number of cancer deaths worldwide, according to a report by specialists in the disease.

Experts reporting from a meeting of cancer organizations across the world said smoking and other forms of tobacco use are the main drivers of a growing global burden of cancer.

They urged governments to put citizens' health above the financial gains they reap from the tobacco business.

"The number of people diagnosed with cancer across the world is increasing. But there are clear actions that all countries can take which will go a long way to reducing both the numbers diagnosed from cancer and deaths from the disease," said Harpal Kumar of the charity Cancer Research UK in a report published by the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Kumar, who worked with Harold Varmus of the U.S. National Cancer Institute and others, said those actions included higher taxes on tobacco products, ensuring health workers set an example by not smoking, deglamourizing the habit and protecting poor countries from increased marketing efforts by the industry.

Some 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year worldwide and cancer now accounts for more than 15 percent of annual deaths globally.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said last year that the number of people with cancer is set to surge by more than 75 percent by 2030, with particularly sharp rises in poor countries as they adopt unhealthy "Westernized" lifestyles.

Smoking is known to cause lung cancer - one of the most deadly forms of the disease - and also increases the of many other types including head and neck cancers, cancers of the bladder and kidneys, and breast, pancreas and colon cancer.

Wednesday's report also said more needs to be done to ensure access and uptake of cancer-preventing immunizations - like the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer - is as high as it can be.

It said the number of people getting these vaccines was low, including even in wealthy countries such as the United States where only a third of teenage girls are being vaccinated.

GlaxoSmithKline and Merck make the only two licensed vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes almost all cervical cancers.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Hugh Lawson)

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