At the current rate, the WHO warns that the number of cancer cases could increase by 60% over the next two decades, with the new cases being mostly in developing countries.
Cancer continues to spread worldwide, but better prevention measures could slow its spread and save several hundreds of thousands of lives each year, particularly in developing and emerging countries. These are essentially the main messages of two voluminous reports issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on Tuesday 4 February.
The first finding is that the incidence of cancer is rising sharply worldwide. According to the IARC report, 18.1 million new cases were diagnosed worldwide by 2018. The Agency does not provide a comparison with data from its previous report, which was issued in 2014 and was based on estimated figures for 2012. These indicated a total number of new cancer cases of 14 million, but contrary to the announced estimates for 2018, certain skin cancers were excluded.
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As a correction for this difference between the two analyses, the IARC was told that the number of cases for 2018 would be 17 million so that the increase in incidence between 2012 and 2018 would be 20%. In other words, an increase that is two to three times greater than the growth of the world population over the same period. However, this estimate should be made with caution, as the IARC report does not include an age-adjusted calculation of the world population structure that would allow a rigorous comparison of the situation described in 2012 with that of 2018. The cancer mortality rate was 9.6 million in 2018.
One in five people before the age of 75 years will get cancer
The greatest risks for the future relate more to emerging and low-income countries than to developed countries, where mortality rates for the major forms of the disease tend to stagnate or decline. According to the WHO, if current trends continue, the world will see a 60% increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. New cases will increase most in low and middle income countries, which have the lowest survival rates. Already today, according to the WHO, one in five people will develop cancer before the age of 75. Moreover, the disease is the first or second leading cause of premature death for those between the ages of 30 and 69 in 134 of the 183 countries analyzed by the IARC.