The World Health Organization predicts more than 35 million new cancer cases in 2050, a 77% jump from the estimated 20 million cases in 2022. That rise will be fueled by risk factors such as aging, obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, and air pollution, the organization said.
There were nearly 10 million deaths from cancer worldwide in 2022, according to WHO. Around one in five people will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and one in nine men and one in 12 women will die from the disease. Lung, breast, and colorectal cancer are the most common globally, with 2.5 million new lung cancer cases recorded in 2022.
Western countries see increased risk
Countries with greater access to healthcare see much higher rates of cancer because “modern medicine is enabling people to survive cancers, and their genetic backgrounds are passing from one generation to the next,” researchers found in 2017. High quality medicine has nearly eliminated natural selection, so “the accumulation of genetic mutations over time and across multiple generations is like a delayed death sentence,” one doctor told ScienceDaily.
Risk factors such as tobacco use, alcohol and obesity exist worldwide, a WHO doctor told CBS News. “But especially in Western countries, ultra-processed foods, processed meats — those are the... risk factors that are contributing to higher cancer rates — colorectal cancer, especially,” he said.
Poorer countries will bear the brunt of an increase in cancer cases
“Those who have the fewest resources to manage their cancer burdens will bear the brunt,” a doctor with WHO’s cancer agency said. The least-developed countries will see the largest proportional increase in cases relative to their populations in the coming decades, WHO said, with the incidence of cancer set to more than double.
People in poorer countries often have worse outcomes because of later diagnoses and unaffordable treatment, Health Policy Watch, an independent journalist network, reported. WHO also found that most nations don’t spend enough on cancer care and treatment. “This is not the time to turn away. It’s the time to double down and make those investments in cancer prevention and control,” another WHO doctor told CBS News.
Breakthrough treatments are often not available to those who need them
Just 5% of global cancer spending reaches countries with 80% of the cancer burden, the president of the International Cancer Foundation told The Guardian – and whether patients have access to new treatments being developed is often a question of privilege. “While patients in high-income countries can live and be cured of cancer, those in underprivileged settings die painfully from the same disease,” the president of the International Cancer Foundation told The Guardian.
While the past decades have seen “major breakthroughs” in treatment for cancer, “progress has been uneven,” a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote in the journal Nature. Inequities in cancer treatment globally are only growing, WHO found, with gaps in care at every step of the way, from diagnosis to treatment.