World Health Organization Predicts Cancer Rates Will Go Up 77% By 2050

An estimated 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2022, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that figure will jump 77% by 2050.

A few days ahead of World Cancer Day – observed on February 4 – WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), shared the findings of its latest global cancer burden report. It involved data on 185 countries and 36 types of cancer. The agency also shared the findings of a health care services survey involving 115 countries.

Cancer patient holds doctor's hand before treatment

The data showed that in 2022, there were an estimated 20 million new cancer cases, along with 9.7 million deaths. There were also 53.5 million people still alive within five years of a cancer diagnosis. The most common cancers were lung (12.4% of new cases), female breast (11.6%), colorectal (9.6%), prostate (7.3%), and stomach (4.9%). There were differences between the sexes, however, with breast cancer accounting for the most cancer cases and deaths in women, and lung cancer at the top of both for men.

Overall, there were 1.8 million deaths from lung cancer, 900,000 from colorectal cancer, 760,000 from liver cancer, 670,000 from breast cancer, and 660,000 from stomach cancer.

IARC highlighted several disparities, as well. Those included that while only 1 in 27 women in countries with a low human development index (HDI) develops breast cancer, compared with 1 in 12 women in very high HDI countries, 1 in 48 women in low-income countries will die from it, compared to only 1 in 71 women in very high HDI countries.

Young Black cancer patient looks out window

Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, Deputy Head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC, says, “Women in lower HDI countries are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women in high HDI countries, yet they are at a much higher risk of dying of the disease due to late diagnosis and inadequate access to quality treatment.”

The survey of 115 countries also found that only 39% of their governments covered basic cancer management through their financed core health services for all citizens, while only 28% covered overall palliative care. Additionally, high-income countries were at least four times more likely to cover lung cancer services than low-income countries and were also four times more likely to cover radiation services.

These disparities could have even broader impacts in the future, as the agency predicts that in 2050, there will be more than 35 million new cancer cases diagnosed, 77% more than 2022’s figure of 20 million. This is due to an aging and growing population, along with differences in exposure to risk factors like tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and air pollution.

Doctor points out lung imaging to patient

The report predicts that cancer deaths in low- and middle-income countries will nearly double by 2050, as well.

Dr. Cary Adams, head of the Union for International Cancer Control, says, “Despite the progress that has been made in the early detection of cancers and the treatment and care of cancer patients–significant disparities in cancer treatment outcomes exist not only between high and low-income regions of the world, but also within countries. Where someone lives should not determine whether they live. Tools exist to enable governments to prioritise cancer care, and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality services. This is not just a resource issue but a matter of political will.”

You can read more about the report here.

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