By Faranak Bakhtiari

Iran's achievements in fight against cancer

February 2, 2021 - 17:20

TEHRAN – The development of cancer caregivers and specialists, increasing the number of service providers, and implementation of early diagnosis programs, along with support by NGOs and charities are the major steps Iran has taken in the fight against cancer.

Although the country is far from the ideal situation, the development trend has been appropriate, Ali Ghanbari-Motlagh, head of the cancer prevention department of the Ministry of Health said.

Referring to the annual identification of 135,000 new cases of cancer in Iran, he said that the National Cancer Registration Program, implemented in 2017, reported that among the 135,000 annual cancer cases registered in the country, 52 percent are men and 48 percent women.

Pointing to breast and prostate cancer as the most common cancers in women and men, respectively, he said that cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, skin, and gastric are the five common in the country.

Lifestyle changes in recent years have led to prostate cancer replacing gastric cancer in men since the Iranian calendar year 1390 (March 2011-March 2012), he added.

Ghanbari-Motlagh went on to note that 16 percent of annual deaths, amounting to 51,000, are related to cancer, which makes it the second leading cause of death in the country after cardiovascular diseases.

Some 14 percent of Iranians develop cancer during their lifetime, which is lower than the world average of 20 percent. Also, 7 percent of cancer patients die, while the probability of recovery is 50 percent.

Cancer patients more likely to die of coronavirus

“We tried to find out the link between cancer and Covid-19 prevalence, and we found out that 3,775 cases of covid-19 were among cancer patients,” he stated, adding, so far, it showed that people with cancer are twice as likely to die of coronavirus as normal people.

Air pollution, third leading cause of cancer

Regarding the impact of air pollution on the incidence of cancer, Ghanbari-Motlagh stated that “We do not know how much, but we know that air pollution is effective in the incidence of cancer, and this depends on the degree of exposure to polluted air.”

After population aging and poor lifestyle, the third most effective factor in cancer incidence is air pollution, he highlighted.

Pointing to the effective factors in preventing cancer prevalence, he noted that some factors that are related to the people include proper weight control, sufficient physical activity, improving nutrition in terms of amount and calories, avoiding smoking, opium, and alcohol, and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Insurance covers 70% of treatment cost

Some 70 percent of cancer medicine and treatment cost is covered by the insurance. However, the Food and Drug Administration and the Ministry of Health also provide patients with 30 percent of the cost, that the patient has to pay, in the form of subsidies, he explained.

Cancer on the rise

Reza Malekzadeh deputy health minister said in February 2020 that “we anticipate that the number of cases will reach 150,000 by 2025, and during this period, there will be more than 5,000 cases annually.”

He went on to say that 380,000 deaths occur every year in the country, of which about 122,000 are premature deaths, or nearly 40 percent of deaths happen to people aging 70 or less.

Among the premature deaths, 34,000 are related to cancer, he lamented, adding, 11,000 people aging less than 50 years lost their lives due to cancer.

National cancer control program

The national cancer control program was developed using the experiences of other countries, in particular, the World Health Organization’s recommendations and the experts’ opinions, which sets out the Ministry of Health’s roadmap up to the Iranian calendar year 1404 (March 2025- March 2026).

The purpose of the program is to reduce cancer prevalence and mortality while improving the quality of patients’ lives, which can serve as a model for other countries, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The cancer preparation program was designed to determine the infrastructure and manpower needed over the next 6 years, to determine the type of centers, equipment, and distribution throughout the country using a geographic information system (GIS).

The program includes two important documents, namely, “development of national cancer care network” and “development of cancer human resources”, which resulted in the establishment of the early diagnostic centers.

Prevalence in the world

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six deaths, in 2018. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.


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