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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 7. 1962.


Cancer has an incidence of one in four and consequently very few families indeed have not had first hand experience of the disease. It is a social menace which is assuming larger proportions as the advance of medical science and social hygiene reduce deaths from other diseases. Only by obtaining the active cooperation of the public can the fight against cancer be waged successfully. The British Empire Cancer Campaign Society aims to obtain this.

It is probably true that no other disease is surrounded by such an atmosphere of misunderstanding and fear. It is this unfortunate public reaction to cancer which is undoubtedly the cause of the loss of many lives unnecessarily. Of all diseases which afflict mankind, cancer is one of the most easily treated but only if caught in its early stages. Early diagnosis is essential. If people could be educated to the simple facts about cancer and alerted to its danger signs, the toll in human lives from this disease would be halved, even with existing knowledge of the disease. Here in New Zealand we are curing one in four of cancer victims only, when we should be curing one in two.

As the advance of medical knowledge has permitted us to reduce mortality from such diseases as tuberculosis, pneumonia and the common infections, more and more people are succumbing to cancer because they are now living longer. It is said that cancer is a by-product of modern civilisation, but only in the sense that civilisation has increased our life span and therefore our period of exposure to the disease, is this true. Cancer is essentially a disease of the older person. Among communities where life expectancy is less than forty years, such as in Egypt, Chile, India, there is little incidence of cancer.

Before the last war a diagnosis of cancer usually meant death. This is not so today. With the improved surgical techniques, more effective drugs, better anaesthetics and the use of blood transfusions the surgeon can now confidently undertake surgery which would formerly have been impossible.