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The rapidly growing global cancer burden reflects population aging and growth, and changes to people’s exposure to risk factors.
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WHO’s Estimates Highlight Growing Global Cancer Burden

The estimates report the disproportionate impact on low-resource settings and the lack of core financial health services

World Health Organization
Published:Feb 01, 2024
|3 min read
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The World Health Organization (WHO)’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), released the latest estimates of the global burden of cancer and published survey results from 115 countries. The results show that a majority of countries do not adequately finance priority cancer and palliative care services, as part of universal health coverage (UHC).

The IARC estimates, based on the best sources of data available in countries in 2022, highlight the growing burden of cancer, the disproportionate impact on underserved populations, and the urgent need to address cancer inequities worldwide. In 2022, there were an estimated 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths. The estimated number of people who were alive within five years following a cancer diagnosis was 53.5 million. About 1 in 5 people develop cancer in their lifetime, approximately 1 in 9 men and 1 in 12 women die from the disease.

Covering commonly occurring cancer treatment and palliative care

The global WHO survey on UHC and cancer shows that only 39 percent of participating countries covered the basics of cancer management as part of their financed core health services for all citizens, or health benefit packages. Only 28 percent of participating countries additionally covered care for people who require palliative care, including pain relief in general, and not just linked to cancer.

Three major cancer types were significant in 2022: lung, breast, and colorectal cancers. The new estimates available on IARC’s Global Cancer Observatory show that 10 types of cancer collectively comprised around two-thirds of new cases and deaths globally in 2022. Data covers 185 countries and 36 cancers.

Lung cancer was the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide with 2.5 million new cases accounting for 12.4 percent of the total new cases. Female breast cancer ranked second (2.3 million cases, 11.6 percent), followed by colorectal cancer (1.9 million cases, 9.6 percent), prostate cancer (1.5 million cases, 7.3 percent), and stomach cancer (970,000 cases, 4.9 percent).

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death (1.8 million deaths, 18.7 percent of the total cancer deaths) followed by:

  • colorectal cancer (900,000 deaths, 9.3 percent),

  • liver cancer (760,000 deaths, 7.8 percent),

  • breast cancer (670,000 deaths, 6.9 percent), and 

  • stomach cancer (660,000 deaths, 6.8 percent). 

Projected cancer burden increase in 2050

Over 35 million new cancer cases are predicted in 2050, a 77 percent increase from the estimated 20 million cases in 2022. The rapidly growing global cancer burden reflects both population aging and growth, as well as changes to people’s exposure to risk factors, several of which are associated with socioeconomic development. Tobacco, alcohol, and obesity are key factors behind the increasing incidence of cancer, with air pollution still a key driver of environmental risk factors.

In terms of the absolute burden, high Human Development Index (HDI) countries are expected to experience the greatest absolute increase in incidence, with an additional 4.8 million new cases predicted in 2050 compared with 2022 estimates. Yet the proportional increase in incidence is most striking in low HDI countries (142 percent increase) and medium HDI countries (99 percent). Likewise, cancer mortality in these countries is projected to almost double in 2050.

“The impact of this increase will not be felt evenly across countries of different HDI levels. Those who have the fewest resources to manage their cancer burdens will bear the brunt of the global cancer burden,” says Freddie Bray, MSc, PhD, head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC.

“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 prioritize 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,” says Dr (hc) Cary Adams, head of the Union for International Cancer Control.

- This press release was originally published on the World Health Organization website