Looking to the Past to Find Inspiration for the Future

“Managing to survive, that is the most important thing.”

The origins of the activities of the Asia Cancer Forum can be traced back to these words, spoken by an elderly lady I encountered in Nanjing in 2004. This chance encounter was also the instant that provided the inspiration for the phrase “Surviving Cancer in Asia,” which became the title of a series of university seminars. “Surviving cancer in Asia” also carries the implication of “surviving through cancer in Asia.” In order to explore the question of how we should approach Asia, and by looking both at the past and to the future, the Asia Cancer Forum has sought to position the grave yet common challenge of “cancer in Asia” as one that can bridge communities.

Today the word “sustainability” is one that has become familiar to us. Back when I first heard the phrase “managing to survive,” I did not really understand its true significance. However, using these words of wisdom as my guide, I travelled around Asia in search of ways in which the Asia Cancer Forum could make a difference.

Cancer is a disease that casts a long and dark shadow over the lifestyles and cultures of people over a long period of time, including such factors as genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices. Through my travels I heard an old man living in a rural mountain village in China on the border with North Korea say, “If I have cancer, then I will just curl up in a blanket and wait for death, as I can’t use my grandchildren’s study funds.” In contrast, I also came across an Indonesian researcher speaking with pride how, “My country has become a country capable of implementing cancer research.” This was a time when moves had been initiated to standardize treatment and normalize guidelines throughout Asia. This researcher had given an inspiring presentation at an international academic meeting that he was participating in with the aim of achieving western levels of cancer treatment. However, when asked about the situation in other regions, his face clouded over as he admitted he was the only one engaged in such work. Back in Japan, I was told by front-line researchers that they had no time for any kind of involvement in international aid efforts. Companies were also reluctant to make any public statements about researching cancer in Asia due to the lack of any credible data.

This was the reality of situation at that time.

At that time, we were holding a series of meetings of the Asian Cancer Information Network to consider how best to handle cancer-related information in society. At the beginning of the 21st century, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, a trend became apparent in the international community that personal information was being collected in the name of public interest, and the OECD began to formulate its own rules and regulations for the protection of personal information. Fully recognizing the hope of all people to “live a better life,” a group of like-minded people, myself included, submitted a correspondence article to Nature in 2002, raising questions about how personal information should be collected, and how it could be used as a basis for predicting the future for society, and what form society is likely to take in such a future.


It was with such friends and colleagues that I sought to create a forum for discussions in which we could face cancer together, as part of efforts to link lives across the whole of Asia. That was the starting point for the Asia Cancer Forum.

In the process of sorting through past information for the renewal of the website on this occasion, I keenly realized that the issues have not changed at all, indeed they have rather become more acute. On the old website, the “About us” section was compiled back in 2009, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Cancer Conference. The now sadly deceased Dr. Hideyuki Akaza, together with Dr. Tohru Masui and I sat down to formulate the direction, mission and overall blueprint for the Asia Cancer Forum. Even now, more than 12 years later, those guiding principles have not changed at all.

“What do we want to achieve in Asia?”

This is the question that Dr. Akaza continued to ask throughout his entire long and distinguished career, and it remains an open and valid question today.

Since 2010, we have continued to provide conceptual resources for academic activities at the University of Tokyo, and since 2013 for the activities of the Union for International Cancer Control Asia Regional Office (UICC-ARO). In Asia, based on the history of each country and region and also due to various factors such as globalization and nationalism, various types of cancer treatment have been developed and are being deployed.

I remain committed to carrying forward our work as a discussion forum linking the lives of the people of Asia, as we look to the past to find inspiration for the future.

December 1, 2021
Norie Kawahara
Representative Director
Asia Cancer Forum