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Globally, breast cancer now most common form of the disease

According to the latest data, breast cancer in women has surpassed lung cancer as the most common cancer across the globe though the latter still leads to more deaths.

Globally, cancer is one of the leading causes of death and according to data from the World Health Organization in 2019, it was the first or second leading cause of death among people before the age of 70 in 112 of 183 countries. The prominence of cancer as a leading cause of mortality has arisen in part because of a reduction in death from either stroke or coronary heart disease.

In an analysis of the latest information, a group of US and French researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, analysed the prevalence and mortality statistics that are currently available and made projections of the future potential incidence of cancer. However, they recognised an important caveat in that their predictions do not take account of the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the researchers felt that any future projections are likely to greatly underestimate the actual incidence of cancer because of the current delays in screening and number of people receiving treatment due to the pandemic. Data were sourced from the Global Cancer Observatory, which includes information collected from 185 countries on 35 cancers as well as patient demographics.

In 2020, the data indicates that an estimated 19.3 million new cancer cases and 10 million deaths occurred. Globally and for both sexes, over a half of all deaths (58.3%) occurred in Asia where approximately 59.5% of the world’s population. European cancer cases accounted for under a quarter (22.8%) of the total and 19.6% of all deaths. Although female breast cancer accounted for the highest number of all cancers (11.7%) and 6.9% of all new deaths, it was closely followed by lung cancer (11.4% of cases) but which accounted for the highest proportion of deaths (18%). In addition, for both sexes, the 10 most prevalent cancers accounted for greater than 60% of all newly diagnosed cases and more than 70% of cancer deaths. However, there were important differences in both prevalence and death in both sexes. For instance, prostate and lung cancer were equally common in men (14.3 % vs 14.1% respectively) but lung cancer was the most common cause of mortality (21.5%). In women, breast cancer accounted for 24.5% of cases but only 15.5% of deaths. In contrast to men, lung cancer occurred in 8.4% of women but was responsible for 13.7% of deaths. Based on current trends (but not accounting for the COVID-19 pandemic), the authors estimated that there would be 28.4 million new cancer cases in 2040 which represents a 47% increase from the current 19.3 million cases. In addition, they also noted changes in prevalence and risk between developing and developed nations. For example, it was shown that in developing continents such as Africa, the cumulative risk of cancer death among women has increased and is now broadly comparable to women in North America and in the highest income European countries, reinforcing the need for a global escalation of effort to control the disease.

Sung H et al. Global cancer statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin 2021;0:1 -41.