Global cancer cases expected to surge 77% by 2050: WHO

With nearly 10 million deaths and nearly 20 million new cases in 2022, cancer remains one of the world's biggest killers, according to a report on Thursday by the WHO.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.(Photo | Pixabay)

GENEVA: The number of new cancer cases will rise to more than 35 million in 2050—77 percent higher than the figure in 2022, the World Health Organization's cancer agency warned Thursday.

The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cited tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and air pollution as key factors in the estimated rise.

"Over 35 million new cancer cases are predicted in 2050," a statement said, a 77 percent increase from the some 20 million cases diagnosed in 2022.

"The rapidly growing global cancer burden reflects both population ageing 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."

The most-developed countries are expected to record the greatest increases in case numbers, with an additional 4.8 million new cases predicted in 2050 compared with 2022 estimates, the WHO said.

But in terms of percentages, countries on the low end of the Human Development Index (HDI) used by the UN will see the greatest proportional increase—up 142 percent. And countries in the medium range are due to record a 99 percent increase, it said.

"Likewise, cancer mortality in these countries is projected to almost double in 2050," the WHO said.

Freddie Bray, head of the cancer surveillance branch at IARC, said: "The impact of this increase will not be felt evenly across countries of different HDI levels.

With nearly 10 million deaths and nearly 20 million new cases in 2022, cancer remains one of the world's biggest killers, according to a report on Thursday by the WHO.

"Those who have the fewest resources to manage their cancer burdens will bear the brunt of the global cancer burden."

Freddie Bray, WHO-IARC

One in five people

Cancer, a disease that causes abnormal cells to multiply and spread, affects humans and virtually all other animal species, with traces found in human skeletons dating from prehistoric times.

There are more than 100 types of cancer, each with its own diagnosis and treatment. Around one in nine men and one in 12 women will die from cancer.

An estimated 9.74 million people died from cancer in 2022, and 19.96 million new cases were recorded, according to a report by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published on Thursday.

On average, one person in five will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime, with the number of global cases growing by over 25 percent between 2009 and 2019, according to the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The IARC predicted that the number of new cases of cancer recorded in 2040 would be 50 percent higher than the 19.96 million recorded in 2022.

In 2050, the number is predicted to be 77 per cent higher than in 2022.

"There is a large increase in the cancer burden," said Dr Freddie Bray, head of the IARC's cancer surveillance unit.

Lung, breast, and colon most common

The three most common cancers are lung cancer (12.4 percent of new cases in 2022), breast cancer (11.6 percent), and colon cancer (9.6 percent).

In terms of deaths, lung cancer is by far the deadliest, accounting for 18.7 percent of deaths, ahead of colon cancer (9.3 percent), liver cancer (7.8 percent), and breast cancer (6.9 percent).

Age a big factor

Three-quarters of all the new cancer cases in 2022 were among people aged over 55. Under-29s accounted for fewer than three percent of the cases, despite accounting for nearly 50 percent of the world's population.

The risk of cancer rises steeply as people age because cells in the body become damaged over time and start to behave differently, leading in some cases to cancer.

Some of the damage happens by chance, but some is caused by external factors such as drinking, smoking, and exposure to UV radiation.

Europe disproportionately hit

Around half of the new cases in 2022 were in Asia, which is home to more than half the world's population.

What is more surprising is that Europe, including Russia, accounted for a quarter of all the new cases, although it represents under 10 percent of Earth's inhabitants.

"Many countries in Europe have among the highest incidence rates of common cancers worldwide, such as prostate and female breast," Bray told AFP.

By contrast, fewer than six percent of cancer cases in 2022 were in Africa, which is home to one in five people but has the youngest population in the world.

Africa's youthfulness can explain the low prevalence of many types of cancer, apart from cervical cancer, which is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Men more at risk

Cancer kills more men than women, with men accounting for 56 out of every 100 cancer deaths, compared to 44 for women.

The fact that men are bigger smokers, which makes them more at risk of lung cancer, the deadliest of all cancer types, is chiefly blamed for the disparity.

But women "endure almost the same burden of cancer overall, and disproportionately so at younger ages," Bray told AFP.

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