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Feb 1, 2024

Global cancer burden growing: WHO

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FA News Desk
The flag of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) flies at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. WHO/P. Virot
The flag of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) flies at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. WHO/P. Virot

Ahead of World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), released the latest estimates of the global burden of cancer.

WHO also published survey results from 115 countries, showing a majority of countries do not adequately finance priority cancer and palliative care services, as part of universal health coverage (UHC).

The IARC estimates, based on the best sources of data available in countries in 2022, highlight the growing burden of cancer, the disproportionate impact on underserved populations, and the urgent need to address cancer inequities worldwide.

In 2022, there were an estimated 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths. The estimated number of people who were alive within 5 years following a cancer diagnosis was 53.5 million. About 1 in 5 people develop cancer in their lifetime, approximately 1 in 9 men and 1 in 12 women die from the disease.

The global WHO survey on UHC and cancer shows that only 39% of participating countries covered the basics of cancer management as part of their financed core health services for all citizens, ‘health benefit packages’ (HBP). Only 28% of participating countries additionally covered care for people who require palliative care, including pain relief in general, and not just linked to cancer.

The new estimates available on IARC’s Global Cancer Observatory show that 10 types of cancer collectively comprised around two-thirds of new cases and deaths globally in 2022. Data covers 185 countries and 36 cancers.

Lung cancer was the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide with 2.5 million new cases accounting for 12.4% of the total new cases.

Female breast cancer ranked second (2.3 million cases, 11.6%), followed by colorectal cancer (1.9 million cases, 9.6%), prostate cancer (1.5 million cases, 7.3%), and stomach cancer (970 000 cases, 4.9%).

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death (1.8 million deaths, 18.7% of the total cancer deaths) followed by colorectal cancer (900 000 deaths, 9.3%), liver cancer (760 000 deaths, 7.8%), breast cancer (670 000 deaths, 6.9%) and stomach cancer (660 000 deaths, 6.8%). Lung cancer’s re-emergence as the most common cancer is likely related to persistent tobacco use in Asia.

For women, the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer death was breast cancer, whereas it was lung cancer for men. Breast cancer was the most common cancer in women in the vast majority of countries (157 of 185).

For men, prostate and colorectal cancers were the second and third most commonly occurring cancers, while liver and colorectal cancers were the second and third most common causes of cancer death.

For women, lung and colorectal cancer were second and third for both the number of new cases and of deaths.

Cervical cancer was the eighth most commonly occurring cancer globally and the ninth leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 661 044 new cases and 348 186 deaths.

It is the most common cancer in women in 25 countries, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Even while recognising varying incidence levels, cervical cancer can be eliminated as a public health problem, through the scale-up of the WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative.

Global estimates reveal striking inequities in the cancer burden according to human development.

“Women in lower HDI countries are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women in high HDI countries, yet they are at a much higher risk of dying of the disease due to late diagnosis and inadequate access to quality treatment,” explains Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, Deputy Head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC.

Over 35 million new cancer cases are predicted in 2050, a 77% increase from the estimated 20 million cases in 2022.

Tobacco, alcohol and obesity are key factors behind the increasing incidence of cancer, with air pollution still a key driver of environmental risk factors.

Meanwhile, the WHO announces the Health Technology Access Pool (HTAP) as the successor to the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).

C-TAP was launched in May 2020 by WHO, the Government of Costa Rica and other partners to facilitate equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health products for people in all countries.