Global cancer cases to rise above 35m in 2050, WHO warns

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that cancer cases will rise to 35 million by 2050.

According to the latest figure released on Thursday, February 1, by the WHO’s Cancer Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the increase is 77 per cent higher than the 2022 prediction.

The body also noted that the number of new cancer deaths was projected to reach 18.5 million by 2050.

According to WHO, an estimated 20 million new cancer cases and close to 10 million deaths (9.7 million) were reported globally in 2022.

Cancer, defined as a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other body parts, is one of the leading causes of death, with Nigeria recording an estimated 116,000 new cases, as well as 70,327 cancer-related deaths in 2018. 

The latest data from IARC’s Global Cancer Observatory, which covers 185 countries and 36 types of cancer, revealed that in 2022, 10 types of cancer accounted for approximately two-thirds of both new cases and fatalities worldwide. 

The WHO noted that lung cancer was the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide, registering 2.5 million new cases (12.4 per cent of the total new cases), and female breast cancer ranked second with 2.3 million cases,  making up 11.6 per cent of the total cases.

Following closely were colorectal cancer with 1.9 million cases (9.6 per cent), prostate cancer with a recorded 1.5 million cases (7.3 per cent), and stomach cancer with 970,000 cases (4.9 per cent).

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death (1.8 million deaths and 18.7 per cent of the total cancer deaths), followed by colorectal cancer (900,000 deaths and 9.3 per cent of total cancer deaths), liver cancer (760,000 deaths, and 7.8 per cent of total cancer deaths), breast cancer (670,000 deaths, and 6.9 per cent of total cancer deaths), and stomach cancer (660 000 deaths, 6.8 per cent).

Lung cancer’s re-emergence as the most common cancer is likely related to persistent tobacco use in Asia, suggested the WHO.

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“There were some differences by sex in incidence and mortality from the global total for both sexes. For women, the most commonly diagnosed cancer and a leading cause of cancer death was breast cancer, whereas it was lung cancer for men. Breast cancer was the most common cancer in women in the vast majority of countries (157 of 185).



    “For men, prostate and colorectal cancers were the second and third most commonly occurring cancers, while liver and colorectal cancers were the second and third most common causes of cancer death. For women, lung and colorectal cancer were second and third for both the number of new cases and deaths.” 

    WHO highlighted that its global survey on universal health coverage and cancer showed that only 39 per cent of participating countries covered the basics of cancer management as part of their financed core health services for all citizens, ‘health benefit packages’ (HBP), adding that only 28 per cent of participating countries additionally covered care for people who require palliative care, including pain relief in general, and not just linked to cancer.

    It further noted that women in lower-income countries were 50 per cent less likely to be diagnosed than women in higher-income countries and also had a higher risk of dying of the disease due to late diagnosis and inadequate access to quality.

    The organisation attributed the rising global cancer burden to population ageing, growth, and changes in exposure to risk factors linked to socioeconomic development, noting that tobacco, alcohol and obesity were key factors behind the increasing incidence of cancer, with air pollution a key driver of environmental risk factors.


    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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