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Press Release

‘Cancer is a tale of two worlds,’ says Aetna International

  • Cancer diagnosis on the rise in developing countries and predicted to continue
  • Widening gap in cancer treatment between rich and poor countries

London, Dubai, Singapore – 1 February 2016 - In the lead up to World Cancer Day 2016 on February 4th, one of the world’s leading health benefit providers, Aetna International, has released a new whitepaper to highlight the widening gap in cancer treatment between rich and poor countries.

Dr. Sneh Khemka, president of International Population Health Solutions at Aetna International, explains: “‘Cancer’ is often referred to as the word you never want to hear your doctor say. It’s a global issue which affects all ages and socio-economic groups with developing countries bearing a disproportionate burden.”

“Cancer is not a single disease but a wide range of conditions – some of which will be eradicated in the future thanks to early intervention, continuous research and effective treatment. Yet whether you enjoy the benefits of those efforts may well depend on where you live in the world.”

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that in 2012 there were approximately 14 million new cases of cancer, 8.2 million cancer-related deaths and 32.6 million people living with cancer (within five years of diagnosis) globally.

More than 60 percent of the 14 million new annual cases of cancer were diagnosed in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, accounting for 70 percent of the world’s cancer deaths. Cervical cancer is just one example of the disproportionate burden borne by the developing world. The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) – the founder of World Cancer Day – claims that over 85 percent of the 275,000 women who die every year from cervical cancer are from developing countries. Cervical cancer will be eradicated if there is widespread dissemination of the HPV vaccination, but today most of the developing world simply has no access to the vaccine.

Dr. Khemka explains that 70 percent of new cancer cases are forecast to occur in developing nations by 2025, yet he believes three steps could help close the widening gulf in cancer treatment between the world’s wealthiest and poorest countries. He calls for efforts in poor countries to widen screening programmes, roll-out of traditional radiotherapy machines, and wider adoption of basic health insurance, such as the Indian Government’s Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojan (RSBY).

“In the developed world, innovation in technology is creating new and more effective treatments,” Dr. Khemka said. “However, in the developing world, access to the right care at the right time is far less certain which is why I refer to cancer as ‘a tale of two worlds’. On our current course, the gap will only widen between the likelihood of surviving cancer in the richest and poorest countries of the world.”

The World Health Organization’s cancer research institute, IARC, has argued that if the $320 billion invested worldwide each year on cancer treatment and prevention was better targeted, the number of cancer deaths could be cut by half. Four out of every five of these “avoidable deaths” would be in the developing world, according to IARC.

Dr. Khemka continued: “What appears to be a bleak path could be changed with improved screening programmes and even rolling out traditional machines in the developing world. Imagine the impact of these machines across India, China, Africa, and other territories with burgeoning populations such as Brazil. Traditional radiotherapy machines cost less than $1 million – far cheaper than the $150 million for each of the 36 proton therapy machines in the US. Giving people in the developing world better access to radiotherapy would offer a greater chance of survival.”

“Similarly, establishing basic health insurance, as the Indian Government has done with the RSBY programme, offers those living below the poverty line access to hospital care and a doctor. These sorts of schemes will change significantly the way cancer is treated around the world; it is about simple access and the financial mechanisms for people to seek care when they need it,” explained Dr Khemka.

To read more from Dr. Sneh Khemka on the future of cancer, especially in developing countries, visit here.

For more information about World Cancer Day 2016 visit

About Aetna International

Aetna International is committed to helping create a stronger, healthier global community by delivering comprehensive health care benefits and population health solutions worldwide.  One of the largest providers of international private medical insurance, Aetna International serves more than 700,000 members worldwide, including expatriates, local nationals and business travellers. Its global benefits include medical, dental, vision and emergency assistance and, in some regions, life and disability. Aetna International also offers customised technological and health management solutions for health care systems, government entities and large employers to improve people’s health, enhance quality of care and contain costs. For more information, see

About Aetna

Aetna is one of the leading diversified health care benefits companies in the US, serving an estimated 46.5 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioural health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities, Medicaid health care management services, workers' compensation administrative services and health information technology products and services. Aetna's customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, health care providers, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labour groups and expatriates. For more information, see and learn about how Aetna is helping to build a healthier world

Twitter: @AetnaNews


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