Sharp rise in cancer cases, deaths worldwide: WHO

11 per cent rise in cases and 8 per cent rise in deaths; over one-fifth of all new cases diagnosed in India

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Thursday 12 December 2013

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related morbidity and mortality in the world, shows the latest data released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation.

Breast cancer emerged as the most common cancer among women. Figures also show that almost 70 per cent of the global cases are being reported from areas with lower levels of development, and more than one-fifth of all new cases are diagnosed in India. The data has been generated from the new version of IARC’s online database, GLOBOCAN 2012. It provides the most recent estimates for 28 types of cancer in 184 countries worldwide.

Cancer facts
New cancer cases in 2012:
14.1 million

Cancer-related deaths in 2012:
8.2 million

New Cancer cases in 2008:
12 million

Cancer-related deaths in 2008:
7.6 million

Most commonly diagnosed cancers:

1.8 million cases of lung cancer (13%);
1.7 million cases of breast cancer (11.9%);
1.4 million cases of cancer of colorectum (9.7%)
According to GLOBOCAN 2012, an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred in 2012. On the other hand, 2008 witnessed 12.7 million cases and 7.6 million deaths. Thus, the number of cases has increased by nearly 11 per cent, while deaths have increased by 7.8 per cent. Prevalence estimates for 2012 show that in addition to new cases for the year, there were 32.6 million people (over the age of 15 years) alive who had had a cancer diagnosed in the previous five years.

The most commonly diagnosed cancers were of the lungs (1.8 million, 13.0 per cent of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9 per cent) and colorectum (1.4 million, 9.7 per cent). Lung cancer is also the leading cause of death (1.6 million). Its share was 19.4 per cent of the total number of cancer-related deaths. Leading cancers causing death were cancers of liver (0.8 million, 9.1 per cent) and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8 per cent).

Shift in burden

The worrying factor for countries like India is that more than half of all cancers (56.8 per cent) and cancer deaths (64.9 per cent) in 2012 occurred in less developed regions of the world.

The data indicates that incidence rates still remain highest in more developed regions, but mortality is relatively much higher in less developed countries. For example, in western Europe, breast cancer incidence has reached more than 90 new cases per 100,000 women annually, compared with 30 per 100,000 in eastern Africa. In contrast, breast cancer mortality rates in these two regions are almost identical, at about 15 per 100,000.

GLOBOCAN 2012 also showed that breast cancer has registered a sharp rise. In 2012, 1.7 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and there were 6.3 million women alive who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous five years. Since the 2008 estimates, breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20 per cent, while mortality has increased by 14 per cent. It is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries. It represents one in four of all cancers in women.

“Breast cancer is also a leading cause of cancer death in the less developed countries of the world. This is partly because a shift in lifestyles is causing an increase in incidence, and partly because clinical advances to combat the disease are not reaching women living in these regions,”said David Forman, head of the IARC Section of Cancer Information, the group that compiles the global cancer data.

Projections based on the GLOBOCAN 2012 estimates predict a substantive increase to 19.3 million new cancer cases per year by 2025. Primary reason given for it is the increase in ageing population.


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