New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal a staggering projection: global cancer diagnoses are expected to surge to 35 million by 2050. This forecast represents a significant 77% increase from the 20 million cases diagnosed in 2022, highlighting the pressing need for comprehensive strategies to combat this escalating health challenge.
Released on Friday by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the data encompasses 185 countries and 36 forms of cancer. Among the findings, lung cancer emerged as the most prevalent worldwide in 2022, accounting for 2.5 million cases, or 12.4% of the total, followed by female breast, colorectal, prostate, and stomach cancers. Alarmingly, lung cancer also claimed the highest number of lives, with 1.8 million deaths, comprising almost 19% of the total.
Moreover, the report underscores profound disparities in cancer burdens across nations, particularly in access to essential services and treatments. In countries boasting a very high Human Development Index (HDI), such as access to health, education, and standard of living, breast cancer diagnoses and mortality rates demonstrate significant discrepancies compared to low-HDI nations. While 1 in 12 women in high-HDI countries face a breast cancer diagnosis, only 1 in 27 are diagnosed in low-HDI countries, yet the mortality rate is higher due to late diagnosis and limited treatment access.
Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, director of WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, emphasized the urgent need for global collaboration and investment to address these disparities. She stressed the importance of WHO’s ongoing initiatives to engage with over 75 governments to develop and implement policies aimed at promoting equitable cancer care for all.
Several factors, including obesity, tobacco, alcohol use, and environmental pollutants like air pollution, are cited as drivers behind the projected surge in cancer rates. While advancements in detection and treatment have led to a decline in cancer deaths in the United States, racial disparities persist, and the incidence of certain cancers among younger demographics is on the rise.
President Joe Biden has made the fight against cancer a key priority of his administration, launching the Cancer Moonshot initiative with the ambitious goal of halving US cancer deaths within 25 years. Collaborating across agencies such as NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, this initiative aims to harness collective efforts to tackle the multifaceted challenges posed by cancer.
Dr. Cary Adams, head of the Union for International Cancer Control, echoed the call for concerted action, emphasizing the need for political will to ensure equitable access to quality cancer care worldwide. As the global community grapples with the mounting burden of cancer, the imperative for comprehensive strategies and collaborative efforts has never been more urgent.
Despite significant progress in cancer research and treatment, persistent inequities remain a formidable challenge. Access to cancer care, particularly in low-income countries, is hindered by a lack of resources, infrastructure, and trained healthcare professionals. Additionally, social determinants such as poverty, education, and access to preventive services contribute to disparities in cancer outcomes.
Inequities in cancer care extend beyond treatment access to encompass disparities in cancer research and clinical trials. People from marginalized communities are often underrepresented in clinical trials, limiting the generalizability of research findings and perpetuating disparities in treatment outcomes. Addressing these disparities requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses policy changes, resource allocation, and community engagement to ensure equitable access to cancer care for all populations.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities in cancer care, disrupting screening, diagnosis, and treatment services. Many cancer patients faced delays in care due to healthcare system strain and prioritization of COVID-19 response efforts, leading to poorer outcomes and increased mortality rates. As countries continue to grapple with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, it is imperative to prioritize cancer care and implement strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on cancer outcomes.