TOKYO—International health organizations have long recognized the devastating impact of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis on developing countries. Now researchers are also sounding an alarm about the burdens of non-communicable diseases, particularly cancer. Japanese researchers hope to highlight the problem and contribute to solutions by bringing together labs and hospitals throughout Asia into a cancer research network.
"Cancer is expected to become more serious in middle- and low-income countries, yet it has not attracted sufficient global attention," Hajime Inoue, director of international cooperation for Japan's ministry of health told the Third Cancer Asia Forum on 7 February here.
Inoue noted that improving child and maternal health and halting the spread of infectious diseases are among the United Nations Millennium Development Goals . But he pointed to studies indicating that over 70% of worldwide cancer deaths  in 2007 occured in low- and middle-income countries and, that in 2015, more deaths will likely result from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, than from HIV/AIDS .
While cancer is a global problem, solutions have to be local. "The epidemiology of cancer in Asia and in the West is very different," said Hideyuki Akaza, a urologist at University of Tsukuba in Japan. He explained that because of genetic and dietary factors, certain cancers are more prevalent in Asia than in the West and the response to treatment varies. Yet limited clinical trial data has hindered the development of evidence-based guidelines for cancer care in Asia, he said.
To fill the gap, researchers are eyeing a network modeled on the United States' National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN ), through which 21 leading American cancer centers collaborate to conduct research and develop clinical care guidelines. Akaza and others hope a similar Asian network will grow out of the 20th Asia Pacific Cancer Conference  to be held in Tsukuba from 12 to 14 November. Akaza, who is president of the conference, already has groups working on proposals for advancing cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and he believes that can set the stage for a more formal ongoing effort.
NCCN makes selected clinical practice guidelines available in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. It also holds meetings  to discuss cancer issuse throughout Asia and the Middle East. But rather than tag along on an American initiative, "It's important that people in Asia take action," says Akaza.