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Vital Stories

Tracking Cancer Data To Get to the Root of the Global Burden

Vital Strategies

Most cancers are preventable, yet cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide. Cancer took the lives of 10 million people in 2020, accounting for nearly one in six deathsseventy percent of those deaths occur in resource-constrained countries. 

World Cancer Day is a time to reflect on the burden of this deadly disease—and to take action. 

To help countries better capture the burden of prevailing cancers, Vital Strategies’ Cancer Registries Program collaborates with ministries of health to establish and strengthen population-based cancer registries. These registries are designed to identify all cases of cancer that occur in a defined population. The result? Data that can be used to inform cancer control and prevention activities and public health policy. 

To mark World Cancer Day, experts from our country partners in Tanzania and Viet Nam, as well as technical partners at the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the African Cancer Registry Network, weigh in on important advancements in cancer control and the role of cancer registries and data collection in making those achievements happen. 

Dr. Nguyen Huong Giang, Head of Department of Cancer Epidemiology, Vietnam National Cancer Institute and Vietnam National Cancer Hospital 

In her work, Dr. Nguyen Huong Giang often quotes the American engineer W. Edwards Deming: “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.” 

This is true in cancer control, she says, where the effectiveness of the program depends on an assessment of the current situation and an evidence-based intervention. “The evidence will be provided by the cancer surveillance data,” Dr. Giang explains.  

Dr. Marion Piñeros, Cancer Surveillance Branch, WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer promotes international collaboration in cancer research and provides technical support to projects that span both the Cancer Registries and Global Grants Programs at Vital Strategies. 

Dr. Marion Piñeros gets to the heart of this support: “Having a population-based cancer registry is having the information to make decisions, to plan, to act and to evaluate.” 

Dr. Max Parkin, Co-ordinator, African Cancer Registry Network 

As the Cancer Registries and Global Grants Programs support seven new countries establish population-based cancer registries, one thing is clear: Data is a fundamental component of any cancer control program. “We tackle cancer with an integrated program and this is the intelligence component of that,” explains Dr. Max Parkin. 

Mai Nguyen, Viet Nam Country Coordinator, Vital Strategies’ Cancer Registry and Data Impact Programs 

Viet Nam is working toward a unified cancer surveillance system that unites all entities working on cancer control. This has the potential to be transformative once complete. As Mai Nguyen explains: “In the Viet Nam context, cancer is one of the highest burdens of disease. Without evidence—without data—you cannot develop a feasible plan to solve the problem.” 

Gisbert Msigwa, Tanzania Country Coordinator, Vital Strategies’ Cancer Registry and Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Programs 

Tanzania now has five population-based cancer registries located in Dar Es Salaam, Dodoma, Mbeya, Kilimanjaro and Mwanza—the latter two being full members of the African Cancer Registry Network. 

Gisbert Msigwa explains: “All these five registries are now centrally coordinated by the Ministry of Health. This is the biggest achievement we have attained.” 

Learn more about Vital Strategies’ Data for Health Initiative here and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat. 

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The Data for Health Initiative is a global effort supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It provides technical assistance to low- and middle-income countries worldwide to improve public health data systems at the national level, including improving civil registration and vital statistics systems, maximizing the use of data to enhance public health policymaking and decision-making, establishing and strengthening national cancer registries and more. Vital Strategies serves as an implementing partner.