The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2014 World Cancer Report on Monday, stating that cancer rates worldwide are expected to increase 57 percent by 2032. In a press release, researchers stated that the battle against cancer won’t be won with treatment alone, preventative measures must play a key role in fighting cancer.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that cancer cases are growing “at an alarming pace,” which emphasizes the need for “urgent implementation of efficient prevention strategies” in order to curb the disease.
Cancer in the developing world is a “time bomb,” says Dr. Bernard Stewart, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, who helped edit the WHO report. The problem, Stewart says, is that treatment availability for cancer hasn’t kept up with the rise in its prevalence.
The long-held idea that cancer is a disease that affects primarily rich countries is slowly being undermined. You’re still more likely to get cancer if you live in a wealthy country than a developing one. But you’re more likely to die from the disease if you live in a poor country because cancer is often detected later in developing countries, and treatments are limited.
“The drug treatment path is simply not an option for the vast majority of low-income countries,” Stewart says.
Furthermore, in industrialized nations the most common cancers (malignancies of the breast, colon or prostate) have the best potential treatment options, whereas cancers most common in low-income countries (cancers of the liver, stomach or esophagus) are harder to treat.
The good news, Stewart says, is that the lessons learned in the West — especially about early screening and prevention — could help to stem the expansion of cancer in other parts of the world.
“There are actions that can be taken in low- and middle-income countries,” Stewart says. In particular, vaccinations against human papillomavirus and hepatitis B and C can help stop the rise of cervical and liver cancers.
People living in North America and Europe are still the most likely to get cancer. But the sheer size of China’s population means that more people now die of cancer in China than anywhere else in world.
Despite high rates of smoking, China’s rate of lung cancer is actually lower than that of most European nations. Death rates in China from stomach and liver cancer, however, are the highest in the world.
There’s great diversity in terms of what forms of cancer strike where. Breast cancer is the leading type of malignancy globally among women, yet in some African nations cervical cancer is more common. Of all the malignancies, prostate cancer kills the most men worldwide; but in Japan, for example, stomach cancer kills more men.
And while cancer is a growing problem in developing nations, the person most likely to get cancer anywhere on the planet is a black man in the United States.