The incidence of cancer worldwide is growing at an alarming pace, and there is an urgent need to implement strategies to prevent and curb the disease, according to a report from the World Health Organization.
New cancer cases will skyrocket globally from an estimated 14 million in 2012 to 22 million new cases a year within the next two decades, the report says. During that same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million a year.
The most common cancers diagnosed globally in 2012 were those of the lung (1.8 million cases, 13% of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9%), and large bowel (1.4 million, 9.7%), the group says. The most common causes of cancer death were cancers of the lung (1.6 million, 19.4% of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1%), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8%).
The estimates and predictions are in a new report, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). The project is a collaboration of more than 250 leading scientists from more than 40 countries.
Christopher Wild, director of the agency, said in a statement, "These new figures and projections send a strong signal that immediate action is needed to confront this human disaster, which touches every community worldwide, without exception."
The report "actually puts onto paper what a lot of us have been saying for some time," says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "The burden of cancer internationally has doubled over the last 20 years, and it will double over the next 20 years. These facts support that we need to be serious about cancer prevention activities.
"In the Western world, the risk of dying from cancer has gone down by 20%, but the number of people who actually die from cancer has actually gone up because there are more people," Brawley says. The number of cancer deaths in USA has risen from 400,000 in 1990 to about 550,000 in 2013, he says.
The decrease in risk is "overwhelmingly due to prevention. Tobacco cessation is the big driver," he says. "Many people don't realize that bad diet and obesity causes 12 different cancers. Indeed it's the second leading cause of cancer in the United States. Tobacco accounts for 33% of all cancers in the U.S. And bad diet, obesity and physical inactivity account for 28%."
Brawley says, "We in Western Europe and the United States are exporting these bad habits — tobacco use and a bad diet high in calories — to the third world."
Half of all cancers globally could be prevented if current knowledge was put into practice, the new report says. This would include preventing the spread of tobacco use and reducing its use, tackling obesity, promoting physical activity, adopting screening programs and encouraging vaccines to reduce risk of certain cancers such as the liver and cervix.
The WHO report says lessons from cancer control measures in more affluent countries show that prevention works but that health promotion alone is insufficient. Adequate legislation plays an important role in reducing exposure and risk behaviors, the report says.
As a consequence of growing and aging populations, developing countries are disproportionately affected by the increasing numbers of cancers, the report says.
More than 60% of the world's total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70% of the world's cancer deaths, a situation that is made worse by the lack of early detection and access to treatment, it says.
There's a need for access to effective and affordable cancer treatments in developing countries, including for childhood cancers, which would significantly reduce mortality, the report says.
The total annual cost globally of cancer was estimated to reach approximately $1.16 trillion in 2010, which is damaging the economies of even the richest countries and is way beyond the reach of developing countries, the report says.