Global cancer death toll is on the rise

Margaret Chan said the overall impact from cancer would 'unquestionably' hit developing countries hardest.

Cancer’s global death toll is tipped to explode in the next two decades, rising from an estimated 8.2m to 13m deaths per year by 2025, according to a new report.

Developing countries will bear the brunt of the burden, largely due to differences in cancer control and care.

These are among the stark findings of a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the arm of the World Health Organisation tasked with tracking cancer’s spread.

The agency releases fresh figures on the disease every five years.

The report estimates that three in five new cancer cases and 70% of cancer deaths occur in the developing world. And even though those living in some well-off Western countries may be more likely to get cancer, their chances of surviving are higher than those living in poorer nations.

For instance, Denmark, France, Australia, Belgium, and Norway recorded the highest incidence of new cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) in 2012, but morality rates were significantly behind those in Mongolia, Hungary, Armenia, Serbia and Uruguay, countries with the highest cancer death rates in the world.

Here at home, the National Cancer Registry (NCR) has predicted a doubling in cancer cases by 2040. The main driver is our ageing population coupled with lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, poor diet, and low activity levels. Skin cancers in particular are forecast to grow, largely a result of over-exposure to sunshine. The NCR, which published its report last month, said cancer would place an increasing burden on the health service.

Globally, low- and middle-income countries are most at risk of cancer overwhelming their health systems and hindering economic growth, as they have the least resources and infrastructure to cope with the predicted levels of disease escalation, according to the world report.

WHO director general Margaret Chan said the overall impact from cancer would “unquestionably” hit developing countries the hardest given they were already grappling with poverty-associated cancers caused by infection or disease.

IARC director, Christopher Wild, said the particularly heavy burden projected to fall on low and middle-income countries “makes it implausible to treat our way out of cancer.”

Indeed even some of the highest-income countries will struggle to cope with the spiralling costs of treatment and care, Mr Wild said.

Cancer overtook heart disease as the number one cause of death in the world in 2011. New cases will likely rise to 19.3m in 2025, with 11.4m deaths.

By 2035, new cases are expected to number about 24m per year. China bears the brunt of new cases.

The World Cancer Report released on the eve of World Cancer Day, was compiled by more than 250 scientists from more than 40 countries.

* Irish Cancer Society: 1800 200 700/ cancer.ie

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