WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has predicted that the number of new cancer cases globally will reach over 35 million in 2050, 77 percent higher than the figure in 2022.
A survey conducted by WHO’s cancer agency cited tobacco, alcohol, obesity and air pollution as key factors in the predicted rise.
“The rapidly-growing global cancer burden reflects both population ageing and growth, as well as changes to people’s exposure to risk factors, several of which are associated with socioeconomic development,” the IARC said.
In a statement, alongside its biannual report based on data from 185 countries and 36 cancers, the IARC disclosed that there were an estimated 9.7 million cancer deaths in 2022.
It added that around one in five people develop cancer in their lifetimes, with one in nine men and one in 12 women dying from the disease.
The IARC also highlighted that the threat of cancer varies depending on where a patient lives.
“In terms of the absolute burden, high Human Development Index (HDI) countries are expected to experience the greatest absolute increase in incidence, with an additional 4.8 million new cases predicted in 2050 compared with 2022 estimates.
“Yet the proportional increase in incidence is most striking in low HDI countries (142% increase) and in medium HDI countries (99%). Likewise, cancer mortality in these countries is projected to almost double in 2050.”International Agency for Research on Cancer
Human Development Index (HDI) is used by the United Nations as a marker of societal and economic development.
Global estimates reveal striking inequities in the cancer burden according to human development. This is particularly true for breast cancer.
In countries with a very high HDI, 1 in 12 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 71 women die of it.
By contrast, in countries with a low HDI; while only one in 27 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, one in 48 women will die from it.
Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram, Deputy Head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC explained, “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.”
Impact Not To Be Felt Evenly Across Countries
According to Dr. Freddie Bray, Head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC, the impact of this increase will not be felt evenly across countries of different HDI levels.
“Those who have the fewest resources to manage their cancer burdens will bear the brunt of the global cancer burden,” he said.
Dr. Cary Adams, Head of Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) noted that despite the progress that has been made in the early detection of cancers and the treatment and care of cancer patients, significant disparities in cancer treatment outcomes exist not only between high and low-income regions of the world, but also within countries.
“Where someone lives should not determine whether they live,” the UICC Head added.
“Tools exist to enable governments to prioritise cancer care, and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality services. This is not just a resource issue but a matter of political will.”Dr. Cary Adams
“WHO’s new global survey sheds light on major inequalities and lack of financial protection for cancer around the world, with populations, especially in lower income countries, unable to access the basics of cancer care,” Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO, said.
Mikkelsen revealed that WHO, including through its cancer initiatives, is working intensively with more than 75 governments to develop, finance and implement policies to promote cancer care for all.
“To expand on this work, major investments are urgently needed to address global inequities in cancer outcomes,” Mikkelsen added.