Blog | Thursday, February 6, 2014

QD: News Every Day--Prevention key to avoiding global cancer epidemic

Early cancer detection and lifestyle changes are the only ways to prevent a looming global cancer epidemic, even as half of all cases could be prevented, a report from the World Health Organization stated.

Trying to treat cancer is draining the coffers of the richest industrialized nations and is out of reach of developing countries, the report stated. Vaccination for infection-related cancers and lifestyle changes for others are the best ways to proceed.

In 2012, the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, a figure expected to rise to 22 million annually within the next 2 decades, WHO officials said in a press release. The officials are part of WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Over the next 20 years, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million per year. Globally, in 2012 the most common cancers diagnosed were those of the lung (1.8 million cases, 13%), breast (1.7 million, 11.9%), and large bowel (1.4 million, 9.7%). The most common causes of cancer death were cancers of the lung (1.6 million, 19.4% of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1%), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8%).

Developing countries are disproportionately affected as their populations grow and age, the report stated. More than 60% of the world’s total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70% of the world’s cancer deaths, because of the lack of early detection and access to treatment.

Access to effective and affordable cancer treatments in developing countries, including for childhood cancers, would significantly reduce mortality, even in settings where health-care services are less well developed. However, the spiraling costs of the cancer burden are damaging the economies of even the richest countries and are way beyond the reach of developing countries, as well as placing impossible strains on health-care systems. In 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer was estimated to reach approximately $1.16 trillion.

Many developing countries continue to be disproportionately affected by the double burden of high infection-related cancers (including those of the cervix, liver, and stomach) and the rising incidence of cancers (such as those of the lung, breast, and large bowel) associated with industrialized lifestyles.

Effective vaccination against hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus could cut cancers of the liver and cervix, respectively. And, preventing the spread of tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries, as well as promoting physical activity and avoiding obesity should also be prioritized in preventing large bowel and breast cancers.