Global Cancer Rates Continue to Soar

Roxanne Nelson

December 16, 2013

Cancer rates continue to increase worldwide, as do deaths due to the disease. In particular, breast cancer is increasing worldwide, according to the latest data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The IARC findings are from GLOBOCAN 2012, the new version of IARCs online database. It provides the most up-to-date estimates for 28 types of cancer in 184 countries worldwide, as well as offering a comprehensive overview of the global cancer burden.

The data show that in 2012, there were an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths.

These data represent a rise in rates from 2008, when there were 12.7 million new cancer cases and 7.6 million related deaths.

Striking Pattern of Cancer in Women

The database also revealed "striking patterns of cancer" in women, thus highlighting the need to make breast and cervical cancer prevention and control a priority. For breast cancer, a sharp rise has been reported globally. In 2012, there were 1.7 million women diagnosed with the disease and an additional 6.3 million women alive who had been diagnosed with breast cancer within the previous 5 years.

Since the 2008 GLOBOCAN estimates, the incidence of breast cancer has grown by more than 20%, and related mortality has increased by 14%.

Breast cancer is now the common cause of cancer-related death among women (522,000 deaths in 2012), and it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries represented in this database.

"Breast cancer is also a leading cause of cancer death in the less developed countries of the world," said David Forman, PhD, FFPHM, head of the IARC Section of Cancer Information, in a statement. "This is partly because a shift in lifestyles is causing an increase in incidence and partly because clinical advances to combat the disease are not reaching women living in these regions."

Developing Countries Undergoing Rapid Change

GLOBOCAN reports that more than half (57%, n = 8 million) of new cancer cases and nearly two thirds of related deaths (65%, n = 5.3 million) occurred in the less developed regions of the planet.

The report notes that many developing countries are going through rapid societal and economic changes, and there is a shift toward lifestyles representative of industrialized countries. These factors, along with changes in reproductive, dietary, and hormonal risk factors, are contributing to the rising cancer rates. However, even though incidence rates of breast cancer are still highest in more developed nations, mortality is greater in less developed countries, owing to lack of access to treatment as well as early detection of the disease.

As an example, the incidence of breast cancer in Western Europe is now more than 90 new cases per 100,000 women annually, as compared with 30 per 100,000 in Eastern Africa. But the mortality rates are nearly identical (about 15 per 100,000), which suggests that women in Eastern Africa are diagnosed at later stages and have worse survival.

"An urgent need in cancer control today is to develop effective and affordable approaches to the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer among women living in less developed countries," said Christopher Wild, PhD, director of IARC, in a statement. "It is critical to bring morbidity and mortality in line with progress made in recent years in more developed parts of the world."

Cervical Cancer Burden Continues

The incidence of cervical cancer has declined dramatically in the industrialized world, thanks to the wide availability of screening, but that has not been the case in developing nations. There are more than half a million new cases every year, and cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women globally, after breast, colorectal, and lung cancers, and it is the fourth most common cause of cancer death.

Nearly 70% of the global burden occurs in areas of lower levels of development, and more than one fifth of all new cases are diagnosed in India. It is also notable in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are 34.8 new cases diagnosed per 100,000 women annually, with 22.5 per 100,000 dying from the disease. In contrast, there are 6.6/100,000 cases and 2.5/100,000 related deaths in North America.

"These findings bring into sharp focus the need to implement the tools already available for cervical cancer, notably HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccination combined with well-organized national programs for screening and treatment," said Dr. Wild.

Higher Incidence in Men

GLOBOCAN also reported that the most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide were lung (1.8 million, 13.0% of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9%), and colorectum (1.4 million, 9.7%); the most common cancer-related deaths were from lung (1.6 million, 19.4% of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1%), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8%) malignancies.

Interestingly, the report also found that globally, the overall age-standardized cancer incidence rate is almost 25% higher in men than in women, with rates of 205 per 100,000 for men and 165 per 100,000 for women. These incidence rates for men, however, vary substantially, with an almost five-fold range across the different regions of the world. For mortality, there is less regional variability than for incidence, with rates being 15% higher in more developed regions than in less developed regions in men, and 8% higher in women.

The report also projected a "substantive" increase by 2025, to 19.3 million new cancer cases per year, primarily attributable to growth and ageing of the global population. The developing world will continue to experience a rise in the disease burden and related mortality.

GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer. Available from


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