One in five men and one in six women around the world develop cancer during their lifetime, according to the latest figures from the from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). One in eight men and one in 11 women die from the disease. The rising toll of cancer is clear from the latest global estimates which predict there will be 18.1 million new cases this year and 9.6 million deaths. Four years ago, when the IARC last did the same exercise, there were 14.1 million cases and 8.2 million deaths.
In more affluent parts of the world with good healthcare systems, it is preventable cancers with causes rooted in our lifestyles and modern culture that dominate. Most lung cancers are caused by smoking, while the causes of breast cancer include obesity and alcohol. In high-income countries, says IARC in its Globocan 2018 report, “from one-third to two-fifths of new cancer cases could be avoided by eliminating or reducing exposure to known lifestyle and environmental risk factors.” Age is also an important factor, however. More people develop cancer because they live longer and will die of the disease, as other conditions, such as heart attacks and stroke, are prevented or better treated. Nearly a quarter – 23.4% – of all cancer cases are in Europe, which has 20.3% of the deaths although it has only 9% of the global population. The Americas have 13.3% of the global population and account for 21% of cases and 14.4% of deaths. Asia has a heavy burden, with 48.4% of the global cases and a bigger proportion still of deaths – 57.3%. Africa also has a bigger proportion of global deaths than cases, at 7.3% and 5.8% respectively.
“Cancer is an important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, in every world region, and irrespective of the level of human development,” says the report. Lung, breast and bowel cancer are responsible for a third of global deaths between them. The largest number of deaths (1.8 million) are a result of lung cancer because the prognosis is so poor. Breast cancer is fifth, with 627,000 deaths, because diagnosis tends to be earlier and treatments are good in high-income countries. “These new figures highlight that much remains to be done to address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally and that prevention has a key role to play,” said IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild. “Efficient prevention and early detection policies must be implemented urgently to complement treatments to control this devastating disease across the world.”
Credit: Sarah Boseley for The Guardian, 12 September 2018.