Cancer is one of the biggest killers in the modern world. It was the cause of nearly one-in-seven deaths in the world in 2010, and is expected to become an even bigger issue in decades to come, as human life expectancy increases and factors such as sedentary lifestyles and diet put more of us at risk.

Four decades after US president Richard Nixon pledged a “war on cancer” to beat the disease cancer cases are still on the rise. The latest report from the World Health Organization says cases worldwide are predicted to increase from 14 million in 2012 to 25 million new cases a year.

One reason is that we now understand that cancer is in fact a constellation of diseases. Another, as author and former cancer patient Clifton Leaf believes, is because the strategies being used aren’t working.

Leaf says we have to look to some of the successful techniques we’ve used to lower mortality rates of other serious ailments such as stroke and heart disease. There we have treated them as a process that we can intervene with as early as possible – such as dealing with high cholesterol levels as a way of preventing a heart attack.

He argues that the search for a cure has been overshadowed by a misplaced emphasis on dealing with the disease once it has taken hold.

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