Unpuzzling Cancer in Africa - Interview with plenary speaker Prof. Max Parkin


Professor Max Parkin is an Oxford University scholar whose work has been instrumental for our understanding of cancer as a global public health concern. At Uppsala Health Summit in June, he will talk about how to build an understanding of the global cancer burden using registry data, and share a preview of the latest Globocan Project data.

In this interview, Dr. Parkin discusses the difficulties associated with understanding the real burden of cancer in Africa, and the picture that is emerging as more data is becoming available.

Max Parkin
Dr. Max Parkin led for many years the 
International Agency for Research
on Cancer’s
 Dept. of Descriptive
Epidemiology and the Globocan Project,
which produces global estimates of prevalent
cancer cases.

Dr Parkin is now coordinating the
African Network of Cancer Registries

“There are very few statistics on mortality in Africa and it´s a tricky enterprise to gather this information. The registries that do exist are often regional rather than national, and a lot of the collection require using the old model of going around and collecting pathology reports and treatment records.

Without the statistics, we can´t tell what the priorities should be or plan any services. We need to know the size of the problem and how it is evolving. So we spend a lot of time teaching public health workers how to build registries. It is also important that they know how to present the data to be able to persuade health ministries what they should focus on, in terms of interventions for prevention, programs for screening and treatments.

The tradition of cancer registries in Europe can be of great help.These registries have been around for 50-60 years now and they are well established. It is a matter of adapting the technique to low-income settings and teaching people how to do it. And it is improving; there are more and more young Africans trained in epidemiology and surveillance and also on how to present the data. For every Globocan project cycle, we see that the situation improves; we get more information of higher quality, so that is a really positive development.

We use the data that we generate from these projects to make estimates on cancer incidence and survival, from which we can also estimate mortality and prevalence in the different populations, and piece this together to get an overall picture.”

At Uppsala Health Summit you will share some insights into the latest data of the Globocan Project that will become available in the second part of 2018. Can you already now describe the picture that is emerging?

“The data available now is from 2012 but we see an important increase in lifestyle-related cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancers, now the most common cancers of women and men, respectively. Some common cancers related to infectious disease such as liver cancer and Kaposi sarcoma have shown some declines in incidence in recent years. However, cancer of the cervix, very frequent in women in many countries, seems not to be decreasing in most of them, probably because the screening programmes that have been tried are haphazard and ineffective."

What needs to happen next?

“The cancer registries that we are supporting constitute a really precious resource. Without the painstakingly gathered data, we wouldn’t have any information about what was going on; it tells us what is happening and what should be a concern. But there is no point in finding out what is wrong with people if you can´t do anything about it, so the whole system needs to move along-side another; we need better and earlier diagnostics, better availability of treatment, and we need to try to increase patients´ ability to pay for treatment, by increasing access to social security systems…so the whole system has move at the same time.”

Thank you Dr Parkin, We look forward to your participation at Uppsala Health Summit Care for Cancer Summit!