It seems a week does not go by without us learning of someone we know who lost their battle with Cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and in some countries it is now number one. Cancer deaths are on the rise. According to a report, 25% of all deaths can be attributed to Cancer, an increase of 15% since 1960. 1 Mexico, Turkey, Finland, Switzerland and Japan have the lowest mortality rates from cancer, while Hungary, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Denmark bear the highest rates. 2

Due to this rise in rates, there is an intentional effort to increase cancer screenings and to reduce the risk for this deadly disease. The #3 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to improve health by strengthening “the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.” 3 They hope that by 2030 they will “reduce by one third premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases [like cancer] through prevention and treatment.” 4 How would they do it? Understanding the related causes or risk factors helps.

There are more than 100 different kinds of cancer, usually named after organs in which it starts. Among those risk factors, some we can change, but some we cannot.

Non-modifiable risks we cannot change are:

• Age. As one gets older the risk increases.

• Genetics. There are cancer-specific genes.

• Gender. Males have higher rates than females in all countries, but especially in South Korea, Turkey, Estonia, Spain and Portugal (nearly twice as much in males than females).

The good news is that only 5-10% of all cancers come from non-modifiable risks. About 90-95% are related to modifiable risks 5 which we can change, such as:

• Smoking

• Obesity

• Lack of exercise

• Excess sun exposure

• Environmental exposures

Additional modifiable risk factors related to diet have been documented. The World Health Organization (WHO) has made it clear that red meat is linked to some forms of cancer. The Adventist Health study results support that, pointing to the fact that choosing a plant-based diet over animal foods lowers cancer risk overall. Hence, a lifestyle with increased physical activity, high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and avoidance of meat, plus maintaining a healthy weight and having careful sun exposure (using sunscreen when UV rays pose dangerous levels), are all critical in reducing cancer risk.

February 4th has been set aside by the UN and the WHO as World Cancer Day every year. 6 It gives us an opportunity to meet a global need. As an elder and church leader you can do much to assist in reducing cancer mortality. We are reminded, “Let them find out what constitutes true health reform and teach its principles, both by precept and by a quiet, consistent example.” 7 So first, be a role model and ask God for power to live this preventive lifestyle described above.

Secondly, take the opportunity to educate members and the community (World Cancer Day is a perfect opportunity). As a health-hope-wholeness center, churches can teach the importance of preventive lifestyles and encourage people to have routine cancer screenings (prostate and colorectal for males, breast and ovarian for women). We can also help people access treatment and care as needed.

Reducing the risk of major killers like cancer is part of God’s plan for us to experience a full life.8 For church members, it means living longer, healthier, and more productive lives in service to others. For the church, becoming involved in partnerships in the community aiming at cancer reduction can open up many doors for ministry and build bridges to share the hope that is in us. That gives us an opportunity to connect people with the Life Giver. Then, “as the sick is brought into touch with the Life giver, their faculties of mind and body, will be renewed.”9

1 OECD (2013), Cancer Care: Assuring Quality to Improve Survival, OECD Publishing, Paris,

2 OECD (2015), Health at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.



5 Anand, P. et al. (2008), “Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes,” Pharmaceutical Research, Vol. 25, No. 9, pp. 2097-2116


7 White, E. G., Counsels on Health, 449.

8 Bible, John 10:10 NIV

9 White, E. G., Medical Ministry, 262.