World cancer toll is on the rise, says research
At least 12.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer around the world every year, and more than 7.5 million die of the disease – a toll that is steadily rising in every country as the population expands and people live longer, according to research by the World Health Organisation.
Cancer was the cause of 14% of all deaths around the world in 2008, the year for which there are the most recent comprehensive figures, but the rates varied enormously from one region to another, from 5% in Africa to 21% in the western Pacific. More than a quarter of all deaths in the UK – 27% – were from cancer.
Cancer Research UK (Cruk) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation, are releasing their report as the first United Nations summit opens in New York on tackling the killer diseases that every nation is now having to confront: heart and lung diseases, diabetes and cancer.
These so-called “non-communicable diseases”, which have all taken off as sedentary lifestyles, junk food, smoking and drinking have spread around the planet, are already a massive burden on rich countries and are steadily becoming one in poorer countries, too.
Cruk has high hopes of the summit, which is intended to focus the attention of government leaders on ways of preventing as well as treating the new scourge. “While it is clear that tackling cancer worldwide will remain one of the major challenges in the 21st century, this high-level meeting will finally put cancer on the global agenda, providing the biggest and best opportunity to drive forward major changes in this area,” says its report.
Worldwide, men are more likely to get cancer than women – 204 out of every 100,000 men and 165 per 100,000 women got cancer in 2008, according to age-standardised data. The incidence rate is rising fast in the developing world but is still markedly lower in Africa, where 88 per 100,000 people got cancer, than in North America and western Europe, where 334 and 335 people respectively per 100,000 were diagnosed.
Data is not well collected or kept in most developing countries, but the younger age of the population and different diets and lifestyles play a big part. The highest incidence among men in the world was in France and Australia, which had 361 cases per 100,000. Among women, it was Denmark, with 325 per 100,000. The UK rate was 33rd highest among men and 12th for women.
Four common cancers are responsible for 45% of the death toll, says the report – lung cancer, which is the biggest killer among men, liver, stomach and colorectum. In the UK, the biggest killers are lung, colorectum, breast and prostate.
For several decades, lung cancer has been the most common cancer in the world. In 2008, there were 1.6m diagnoses and the largest proportion – 55% – is now in the developing world, where public smoking bans and advertising restrictions generally do not apply.
The declaration to be signed at the end of the UN meeting will call on governments to take action against tobacco marketing. About a quarter of all adults in the world – more than 1 billion people – are thought to smoke. In Europe, male smoking has peaked, but the habit is still on the increase among young women and girls. The UK has the seventh highest lung cancer rate in women among 184 countries with reliable statistics in the world.
Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer among women, with 1.38mdiagnoses in 2008, which is a quarter of the total for women. It affects a larger proportion of women in wealthy countries, although the developing countries have high numbers and it is a growing problem there.
Reproductive behaviour – having fewer children and postponing childbearing, and breastfeeding less – as well as weight, lack of exercise and drinking are all thought to be factors in the rise in cases. Breast cancer is the most common cause of death among women worldwide.
Cervical cancer hits developing countries hardest as screening, vaccination and treatment bring the numbers down in the richer world. More than eight out of 10 cases (86%) are now in the developing world, and 88% of the 275,000 deaths. The UK death rate is low, ranked 157th out of 184 countries on mortality rates.