Research & Clinical Trials

Cancer Incidence Rising Rapidly Around the World

Written By:
Dec 13, 2018
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
December 13, 2018
World Health Organization flag

More than 30,000 people around the world will be diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma cancer in 2018, according to the latest estimates by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Almost 26,000 will die from the disease.

The numbers on mesothelioma were part of a larger report that included 36 types of cancer.

The research covered 185 countries throughout 20 regions. It was published in the November/December issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

An estimated 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million cancer deaths are expected in 2018, a significant rise from 2012, when the agency published its last study.

“The key thing we are seeing now is cancer becoming the leading barrier to increasing life expectancy,” Dr. Freddie Bray, the lead report author, told the World Oncology Forum. “This is something that will play out in the next decades.”

No Country Is Immune

Bray predicted that by 2035, more than 23 million people will be diagnosed with cancer annually.

“It’s going to happen in every country in the world,” he said. “We need to invest in cancer prevention now. Even then, it takes 20-30 years to take effect.”

Despite medical advances and growing international awareness of cancer prevention in recent decades, the growth of incidence and mortality has not slowed.

Cancer Incidence and Mortality

  • 2002: 10.9 million cases and 6.7 million deaths
  • 2008: 12.7 million cases and 7.6 million deaths
  • 2012: 14.1 million cases and 8.2 million deaths
  • 2018: 18.1 million cases and 9.6 million deaths

“Cancer is an important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, in every region, and irrespective of the level of human development,” the authors wrote in the study conclusion. “The extraordinary diversity of cancer is captured by the variations in the magnitude and profile of the disease.”

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is either the first- or second-most-common cause of death before age 70 in 91 countries. It ranks third or fourth in an additional 22 countries. It is the No. 1 cause of premature death in the United States and Canada.

The worldwide incidence rate for all cancers combined was approximately 20 percent higher in men than in women. The mortality rate was almost 50 percent higher for men.

Revealing the Toll of Mesothelioma

This latest report was the first time mesothelioma was examined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The worldwide mesothelioma numbers for 2018 include:

  • Men: 21,662 cases and 18,332 deaths
  • Women: 8,781 cases and 7,244 deaths
  • Total: 30,443 cases and 25,576 deaths

The International Commission of Occupational Health recently did a study on worldwide deaths attributed only to asbestos exposure.

It found 27,612 people around the world died of mesothelioma in 2016, and 34,270 died from lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Focus on Cancer Prevention

The authors believe more than one-third of new cancer cases in developed countries such as the United States and Canada could be avoided by eliminating or reducing exposure to lifestyle and environmental risk factors.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer incidence (2.1 million) and death (1.8 million) in 2018, accounting for almost 20 percent of all cancers.

Lung cancer is usually linked to cigarette smoke, but asbestos is the primary cause in about 4 percent of cases. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, almost always traces back to asbestos exposure.

Breast cancer accounts for almost one in four cancer cases among women. It is a leading cause of cancer death around the world — except in North America, Australia and Northern Europe, where early detection is emphasized.

Five Leading Cancer Sites

  • Lung: 2,093,876 cases and 1,761,007 deaths
  • Breast: 2,088,849 cases and 626,679 deaths
  • Prostate: 1,276,106 cases and 358,989 deaths
  • Colon: 1,096,601 cases and 551,269 deaths
  • Stomach: 1,033,701 cases and 782,685 deaths

Encouraging Better Cancer Data Collection

The figures used in the study come from the best sources of cancer incidence and mortality data within a given country. But the authors believe only 1 in 3 countries have adequate cancer data gathering systems. Other countries may underestimate their findings.

Bray’s research group works with the Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development, an international partnership that uses the data to evaluate and prioritize cancer control efforts worldwide.

It hopes to build on the Global Action Plan of the World Health Organization, whose goal is to reduce premature mortality by one-third before the year 2030.

“The major thing for me, working in cancer surveillance, is cancer data. Cancer data for cancer action,” Bray said. “If we don’t have a plan, a compass, the direction where cancer is going, we’re not going to be able to see if we are making a difference.”

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