NewsGlobal cancer burden on the rise as demand for services increases

Global cancer burden on the rise as demand for services increases


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On the eve of World Cancer Day, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), unveiled its latest global cancer burden estimates. Simultaneously, WHO published survey results from 115 countries, revealing a widespread lack of adequate financing for essential cancer and palliative care services within the framework of universal health coverage (UHC).

The IARC’s 2022 estimates, drawing from the best available data worldwide, underscore the escalating burden of cancer, its disproportionate impact on marginalized populations, and the urgent need to rectify global cancer disparities.

In 2022, the world witnessed an estimated 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths, with 53.5 million individuals alive within five years of a cancer diagnosis. Approximately one in five people develop cancer in their lifetime, resulting in one in nine men and one in twelve women succumbing to the disease.

The WHO’s global survey on UHC and cancer exposes a stark reality: only 39% of participating countries include the basics of cancer management in their financed core health services for all citizens, known as ‘health benefit packages’ (HBP). Moreover, a mere 28% of these countries extend coverage to care for individuals requiring palliative care, encompassing pain relief not solely linked to cancer.

The IARC’s Global Cancer Observatory data reveals that in 2022, lung, breast, and colorectal cancers collectively constituted two-thirds of new global cases and deaths across 185 countries and 36 cancers. Lung cancer topped the list with 2.5 million new cases (12.4%), followed by female breast cancer (2.3 million cases, 11.6%) and colorectal cancer (1.9 million cases, 9.6%).

Importantly, lung cancer claimed the highest number of lives (1.8 million deaths, 18.7% of total cancer deaths), with colorectal cancer (900,000 deaths, 9.3%), liver cancer (760,000 deaths, 7.8%), breast cancer (670,000 deaths, 6.9%), and stomach cancer (660,000 deaths, 6.8%) following suit.

Notably, the resurgence of lung cancer as the most common form is linked to persistent tobacco use in Asia.

Differences by sex in incidence and mortality rates were evident globally. Breast cancer was the most diagnosed and leading cause of cancer death for women, while lung cancer held that position for men. Prostate and colorectal cancers ranked second and third for men, with liver and colorectal cancers taking those spots for causes of death. Cervical cancer, the eighth most common cancer globally, was the ninth leading cause of cancer death.

The report also highlighted striking cancer inequities tied to Human Development Index (HDI). Women in low HDI countries are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those in high HDI countries. However, due to late diagnosis and limited access to quality treatment, they face a significantly higher risk of dying from the disease.

WHO’s global survey underscored significant global inequities in cancer services. High-income countries were 4-7 times more likely to include lung cancer-related services in their health benefit packages. Notably, stem-cell transplantation, a critical service, was 12 times more likely to be included in high-income countries’ health benefit packages.

As the global cancer burden is projected to surge to 35 million new cases in 2050, a 77% increase from 2022, experts emphasize the need for urgent investments and political will to address disparities and ensure equitable access to cancer care worldwide.

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