Most New Cancer Cases and Deaths Occur in Developing World

Nick Mulcahy

June 21, 2010

June 21, 2010 — Worldwide estimates of the numbers of new cases of and deaths from cancer are now available online in one place — GLOBOCAN 2008. The Internet-based resource is a project of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France.

The database, which uses statistics from 2008, provides information on the burden of cancer overall and for 27 specific cancer types for almost all countries and regions of the world.

It also reveals that most new cancer cases (56%) and deaths (63%) occur in less developed regions of the world, such as Asia and South America.

"These figures represent the most accurate assessment of the global cancer burden available at present and can be used in the setting of priorities for cancer control in different regions of the world; they form a vital foundation to future responses to the [United Nations] resolution on noncommunicable diseases," said Christopher Wild, PhD, director of the IARC in a press statement.

Cancer Patterns Vary by Region

According to GLOBOCAN 2008, the most common cancers worldwide are lung (1.61 million, 12.7% of the total), breast (1.38 million, 10.9%), and colorectal (1.23 million, 9.7%).

The most common causes of cancer death are lung (1.38 million, 18.2% of the total), stomach (0.74 million, 9.7%), and liver (0.69 million, 9.2%) cancers.

However, there is not uniformity in the worldwide data in terms of types of cancers and their incidence and mortality.

"Striking differences in the patterns of cancer from region to region are observed," said Dr. Wild. "Cervix and liver cancers are much more common in developing regions of the world, whereas prostate and colorectal cancers are more common in developed regions."

Easy-to-Use Tools

The GLOBOCAN 2008 is a user-friendly Web site featuring a variety of tools that allow for quick reviews of cancer incidence and mortality for a specific country or region by sex and cancer type.

The site includes fact sheets, maps, and charts. It also has a unique cancer prediction tool that allows users to select a country, cancer type, prediction year and, with a click of a button, receive an estimate of either mortality or incidence.

The GLOBOCAN 2008 Web site also has a glossary of terms, references, and links to the cancer statistic Web sites for individual countries worldwide.

The Challenges in Less Developed Countries

The fact that most of the new cases of cancer and cancer-related deaths now occur in countries that are less developed economically is a great global challenge, suggests a news essay on GLOBOCAN 2008 that appears in the June 12 issue of the Lancet.

"Cancer control and care have remained a low priority in developing countries and on global health agendas," reads the essay from the Lancet editors.

It points out that cancer care is expensive and technologically complex. "Poor economies cannot currently access curative therapies, state-of-the-art surgery, or expensive cancer drugs that are the mainstay of cancer care in developed nations."

As a consequence, disease prevention — especially tobacco control to prevent lung cancer related to smoking — should be a mainstay in public health initiatives; a number of other disease-specific initiatives could have a broad impact, suggests the Lancet.

"GLOBOCAN 2008 shows that cervical and liver cancers are much more common in developing regions than in developed regions. Most liver cancers can be prevented by simple childhood immunization against hepatitis B, and cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination of adolescent girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Such vaccines could be incorporated into established vaccination programmes. Cost, however, is an issue," they write.

Lancet. 2010;375:2051. Abstract


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