Cancer cases expected to rise by 57 percent over next 20 years, says WHO

World Health Organization calls for action and says treatment alone will not curb disease, emphasizing preventive care

New WHO report says new cancer cases will more than double worldwide in the next two decades. It found that sales of tobacco are “inextricably linked” to the expected surge in cancer.
Xu congjun/Imaginechina via AP Images

New cancer cases worldwide are expected to increase by 57 percent by 2032, according to a report released Monday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Announcing the findings of its World Cancer Report 2014, WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) called on governments to make much better use of vaccines and preventive public-health policies because treatment alone cannot stem the disease.

The agency warned that the rate of cancer was growing "at an alarming pace" worldwide and new strategies were needed to curb the sometimes fatal and often costly disease.

"It's untenable to think we can treat our way out of the cancer problem. That alone will not be a sufficient response," Christopher Wild, IARC's director and a co-editor of the report, told reporters at a London briefing.

"More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed ... to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally."

The World Cancer Report, which is produced roughly every five years, was released on the eve of World Cancer Day on Tuesday and involved the collaboration of about 250 scientists from more than 40 countries.

The report noted the role of Big Tobacco in contributing to a likely surge in lung cancer cases in particular, saying its sales drive was "inextricably linked" to the rise. 

It said access to effective and relatively inexpensive cancer drugs would significantly cut death rates, even in places where health-care services are less developed.

The spiraling costs of cancer are hurting the economies of even the richest countries and are often way beyond reach in poorer nations. The total economic cost of cancer in 2010 was estimated at about $1.16 trillion.

Yet approximately half of all cancers could be avoided if current knowledge about cancer prevention were properly implemented, Wild told reporters.

Developing countries hit hard

The report said that in 2012 — the latest year for which data are available — the number of new cancer cases rose to an estimated 14 million, a figure expected to grow to 22 million by 2032.

Over the same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million a year to 13 million per year.

The data mean that at current rates, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women worldwide will develop cancer before the age of 75 and 1 in 8 men and 1 in 12 women will die from the disease.

In 2012 the most common cancers diagnosed were lung, breast and colon or bowel cancers, and the most common causes of cancer death were lung, liver and stomach cancers.

As populations across the world are growing and aging, IARC said developing countries were disproportionately affected by the increasing numbers of cancers.

"Behind each one of these numbers, there's an individual and a family faced with a tragic situation," Wild said.

More than 60 percent of the world's cases occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70 percent of the world's cancer deaths, it said. The situation is made worse in poorer countries by the lack of early detection and access to treatment.

"Governments must show political commitment to progressively step up the implementation of high-quality screening and early detection programs, which are an investment rather than a cost," said Bernard Stewart, another co-editor of the report.

The experts highlighted efforts to curb rates of smoking, the use of vaccines to prevent infections that cause cervical and liver cancers and policies aimed at bringing down rates of obesity as key areas where more should be done.

"Adequate legislation can encourage healthier behavior," said Stewart.


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