WHO calls for efficient strategies to curb alarming growth in cancer incidence

Middle-income and poor countries account for more than 60 per cent of the world’s total cancer cases and 70 per cent cancer deaths

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Wednesday 05 February 2014

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said cancer cases are increasing at an alarming pace and emphasised the need for urgent implementation of efficient strategies to control the disease.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of WHO, released the World Cancer Report on February 3; it is based on latest statistics on trends in cancer incidence and mortality worldwide. “Effective prevention measures are urgently needed to prevent cancer crisis,” the report says.

Treatment alone cannot win the global battle against cancer, the report says emphatically. “Despite exciting advances, we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem,”  says director of IARC, Christopher Wild, says,  “More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally,” he adds.

Developing countries disproportionately affected

The report says that the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year in 2012 and is expected to rise to 22 million annually within the next two decades.
Over the same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million a year.

In 2012, globally, the most common cancers diagnosed were those of the lung (1.8 million cases, 13.0 per cent of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9 per cent of total) and large bowel (1.4 million, 9.7 per cent).

According to the report, the most common causes of cancer deaths were lung cancer (1.6 million, 19.4 per cent of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1 per cent of total), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8 per cent of total).

Steep rise
  • 14 million: global estimated burden of new cancer cases in 2012
  • 22 million: estimated burden of new cases in next two decades
  • 8.2 million: number of cancer deaths in 2012
  • 13 million: expected annual cancer deaths in next two decades
The report says developing countries are disproportionately affected by the increasing number of cancers due to growing and ageing populations. More than 60 per cent of the world’s total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70 per cent of the world’s cancer deaths.
The report says access to effective and affordable cancer treatments in developing countries, including for childhood cancers, would significantly reduce mortality, even in settings where healthcare services are less well developed.

Economic burden

The huge costs of the cancer burden are damaging the economies of even the richest countries, says the report, adding that it is way beyond the reach of developing countries.
In 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer was estimated to have reached approximately US $1.16 trillion. Yet about half of all cancers could be avoided if current knowledge was adequately implemented, says the report.

“The rise of cancer worldwide is a major obstacle to human development and well-being. 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,” stresses Wild.

Preventive measures

Citing the role of legislation in tobacco control worldwide, the report emphasises the need of effective legislation in other areas like consumption of alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and in limiting exposure to occupational and environmental carcinogenic risk, including air pollution.

Editor of the report, B W Stewart, says, legislation can encourage healthier behaviour and has a recognised role in protecting people from workplace hazards and environmental pollutants. “It is critical that governments commit to enforcing regulatory measures to protect their populations and implement cancer prevention plans in low- and middle-income countries,” he says.

Global battle against cancer won’t be won with treatment alone: effective prevention measures urgently needed to prevent cancer crisis

World Cancer Factsheet

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