Ahead of World Cancer Day, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), has released its latest estimates of the global cancer burden. WHO also published findings from 115 countries showing that most countries do not provide adequate funding for priority cancer and palliative care services as part of universal health coverage (UHC).
IARC’s 2022 estimates, based on the best available data sources across countries, highlight the growing burden of cancer, its disproportionate impact on underserved populations, and the urgent need to address global cancer inequalities.
In 2022, there are expected to be 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths. It is estimated that 53.5 million people will survive within 5 years of a cancer diagnosis. About one in five people will develop cancer during their lifetime, and about one in nine men and one in 12 women will die from the disease.
The World Health Organization’s global survey on universal health coverage and cancer shows that only 39% of participating countries include basic knowledge of cancer management as part of their core health service “Health Benefits Package” (HBP) that is funded for all citizens. Only 28% of participating countries additionally cover care for people who need palliative care, including general pain relief, not just cancer-related pain.
Three major cancer types in 2022: lung, breast and colorectal cancer
The latest estimates from the IARC Global Cancer Observatory show that around two-thirds of new cases and deaths worldwide in 2022 will be caused by 10 cancers. The data covers 185 countries and 36 cancer types.
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world, with 2.5 million new cases, accounting for 12.4% of the total new cases. Female breast cancer ranks 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 gastric cancer (970,000 cases, 4.9%) .
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death (1.8 million deaths, accounting for 18.7% of total cancer deaths), followed by colorectal cancer (900,000 deaths, accounting for 9.3%), liver cancer (760,000 deaths, accounting for 7.8%) , breast cancer (670 deaths). 000 deaths, 6.9%) and gastric cancer (660,000 deaths, 6.8%). The resurgence of lung cancer as the most common cancer may be linked to continued smoking in Asia.
There are certain differences between the morbidity and mortality rates of different genders and the total global morbidity and mortality rates for men and women. For women, the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer death is breast cancer, and for men, it is lung cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the vast majority of countries (157 of 185 countries).
For men, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer are the second and third most common cancers, while liver cancer and colorectal cancer are the second and third most common causes of cancer death. For women, lung cancer and colorectal cancer rank second and third in new cases and deaths, respectively.
Cervical cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the ninth leading cause of cancer death worldwide, with 661,044 new cases and 348,186 deaths. It is the most common cancer among women in 25 countries, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Even recognizing the different incidence levels, cervical cancer as a public health problem can be eliminated by scaling up the WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative.
Human Development Index (HDI) highlights cancer inequalities
Global estimates show alarming inequalities in the burden of cancer according to human development. This is especially true for breast cancer. In countries with a very high Human Development Index, 1 in 12 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and 1 in 71 women will die from breast cancer. In contrast, in countries with lower human development index; while only one in two women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, one in four will die from breast cancer.
“Women in low Human Development Index countries are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women in high Human Development Index countries, but they die from breast cancer due to late diagnosis and insufficient access to quality treatment. The risk of the disease is much higher,” explains Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, deputy director of IARC’s Cancer Surveillance Unit.
WHO’s global survey of HBP also revealed severe inequalities in cancer services around the world. It is reported that high-income countries are 4-7 times more likely to include lung cancer-related services in HBP than low-income countries. On average, HBPs in high-income countries are four times more likely to cover radiation services than in low-income countries. The largest disparity among all services was stem cell transplantation, with high-income countries being 12 times more likely to include stem cell transplantation in HBP than low-income countries.
“New WHO global survey reveals deep inequalities and lack of financial protection in cancer around the world, with people, especially in low-income countries, unable to access basic cancer care,” said Dr. Bengt Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO. “WHO is working closely with governments in more than 75 countries, including through its Cancer Initiative, to develop, fund and implement policies to promote universal cancer care. To scale up this work, significant investment is urgently needed to address the global gap in cancer outcomes. Issues of inequality.”
Cancer burden projected to increase in 2050
New cancer cases are expected to exceed 35 million in 2050, a 77% increase from the estimated 20 million cases in 2022. The rapid increase in the global cancer burden reflects population aging and growth, as well as changes in people’s exposure to risk factors, some of which are related to socioeconomic development. Tobacco, alcohol and obesity are key factors in rising cancer rates, while air pollution remains a major driver of environmental risk factors.
In terms of absolute burden, high-HDI countries are expected to experience the largest absolute increases in incidence, with an additional 4.8 million new cases expected in 2050 compared with 2022 estimates. However, the most significant increases in incidence were seen in low-HDI countries (142% increase) and moderate-HDI countries (99% increase). Likewise, cancer mortality in these countries is expected to nearly double by 2050.
“The impact of this increase will not be felt evenly across countries with different levels of the Human Development Index. Those with the fewest resources to manage the cancer burden will bear the brunt of the global cancer burden,” said Dr Freddie Bray, head of IARC’s Cancer Surveillance Unit.
“Despite advances in the early detection of cancer and the treatment and care of cancer patients, cancer treatment outcomes vary significantly not only between high- and low-income regions of the world, but also within countries.” Place should not determine whether one lives or not. The tools exist to enable governments to prioritize cancer care and ensure everyone has access to affordable, quality services. This is not just a matter of resources but also of political will,” International said Dr. Cary Adams, director of the Alliance for Cancer Control.
Note to editors:
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization. More information: IARC Global Cancer Observatory.