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Health-care experts, scientists and government officials gathered this week at a United Nations-backed forum to discuss whether more resources and greater awareness can be mobilized to make cancer control in the developing world a global health priority.

In a two-day scientific forum that wrapped up yesterday in Vienna, prominent figures from national cancer societies, cancer control organizations and international bodies focused on the implications of the worldwide cancer epidemic on public health policy in low- and middle-income countries.

Some experts pointed out that cancer has not received the forceful attention that the disease warrants, nor was it included among the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to a press release issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which sponsored the forum.

Addressing the forum, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano called for unified action to fight the cancer epidemic in developing countries.

IAEA's role was important, he said, particularly with respect to radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, radiology and medical radiation physics, he said. But the agency is just one element in the system, since cancer care also encompasses prevention, diagnosis, and education and training.

“We recognize that there are limits to what we can do on our own to make improved cancer care more widely available in developing countries. With the rising number of cancer cases, the existing radiation medicine infrastructure and available resources meet only a small proportion of the growing needs,” said the Director General.

“The IAEA is a small player with modest resources and cannot act alone,” he said. “But we do want to put our special expertise to work as effectively as possible, in cooperation with our partners.”

Cancer kills more people globally than tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria combined. Over half of these cancer cases occur in developing countries. Yet, the vast majority of the funds invested to treat cancer are spent in the developed world. Developing countries that are coping already with severe economic limitations now confront a cancer epidemic.

Without concerted, coordinated action, over 13 million people worldwide will die from cancer every year by 2030. Almost 9 million of these deaths will be in developing countries. In many low-income countries, there is not a single radiation therapy machine.

The 2010 Scientific Forum was held in conjunction with the 54th General Conference of the IAEA. Since 1980, the agency has delivered over $220 million worth of cancer-related assistance to developing countries.