Worldwide, cancer kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB put together. In developing countries where chronic diseases are now growing alongside infectious diseases, new strategies need to be developed.

This article outlines how to develop an effective cancer strategy in African countries on the basis of discussions at the recent African Cancer Reform convention. A cancer control plan clearly needs to take into account African countries' financial constraints and the authors outline six key essentials that would offer most health gain for money invested. These are: setting up cancer intelligence units to collect data on cancer incidence; controlling tobacco use; early diagnosis and prevention; offering treatment wherever possible; palliative care when treatment is no longer useful; and training and educating future generations of African oncologists.

Developed countries can offer crucial expertise and experience and collaborate on cancer information networks. Educating local communities about a disease that is relatively new but growing quickly will also be essential to stop it spiralling when many cancers are preventable or treatable when detected early enough.