Noting that outdoor air pollution increases the risk of cancer, World Health Organization (WHO) urged the governments of Southeast Asian region to tackle the issue with "urgency" as the area has 14 of the world's top 20 polluted cities.

WHO said that every year 8.2 million people die from the disease across the world and two-thirds of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

It also said tobacco use, both in smoke and smokeless forms accounts for 22 per cent of cancer deaths globally and is a "leading" cause of the disease in the region.

WHO's Southeast Asian region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

"Outdoor air pollution, meanwhile, increases the risk of cancer for us all. The region has 14 of the world's top 20 polluted cities, making clear the need for governments to tackle the issue with a sense of urgency," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia on the eve of World Cancer Day.

She said that in the region, occupational hazards and exposure to environmental substances continue to be a source of cancer and premature death.

Whether through labouring in fields without adequate sun protection or exposure to cancer-causing chemicals at a factory, workers throughout the region are exposed to risks, she said.

She said that alcohol use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity similarly contribute to a burden that has profoundly negative social, economic and developmental implications.

"We need to improve access to cancer treatment and services across the care continuum, and build the capacity of the workforce staffing these services.

"We also need to work towards developing and enforcing strong policies to reduce tobacco and alcohol use and reducing exposure to environmental carcinogens," she said.

She said that to address these issues, both at a systemic and individual level, increased awareness is "critical" and the theme of World Cancer Day 2016-2018, 'We can I can', is both welcome and vital.

Source: February 3, 2016, The Times of India