The numbers published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer were slightly higher than those in the last world-wide update in 2012, when officials expected 14 million new cancer cases and 8 million deaths. Experts said the increase could be partly attributed to population growth and aging, but that individuals could do more to reduce their chance of getting sick.
“A lot of those (cancer cases) could be prevented, with key prevention efforts focusing on some of the main risk factors which we have heard about: tobacco consumption, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and improper diet,” said Dr. Etienne Krug, director of WHO’s department of non-communicable diseases.
Krug said it was also critical that countries ensure access to fast diagnosis and treatment, noting: “For those who have cancer, cancer should not be a death sentence anymore.”
The research agency’s report said nearly 44 million people in the world are alive five years after being diagnosed with cancer. Based on data from 185 countries, the report estimated that one in five men and one in six women will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
The UN researchers said lung cancer kills the most people, followed by breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer.
Since lung cancer often develops over decades, any decrease in the disease’s frequency from declining smoking rates likely won’t be seen for years.
The cancer research agency said more than half of all cancer deaths will occur in Asia, home to 60 per cent of the world’s population. Europe accounts for about 23 per cent of cancer cases while the Americas accounts for 21 per cent. Africa has approximately 7 per cent of the world’s cancer cases, but the continent’s death rate tends to be higher, mainly because cancers aren’t caught early or aren’t easily treatable given the limited health resources there.
In developed countries, prevention efforts are helping drive down the rates of various cancers, including those of the lung and cervix, while developing countries are increasingly affected by cancers typically linked to social and economic development, like colon cancer.
Dr. Freddie Bray, head of cancer surveillance at IARC, predicted there would be 29 million cases of cancer by 2040 and 16 million deaths.