The latest World Cancer Report says it is implausible to think we can treat our way out of the disease and that the focus must now be on preventing new cases. Even the richest countries will struggle to cope with the spiralling costs of treatment and care for patients, and the lower income countries, where numbers are expected to be highest, are ill-equipped for the burden to come.
The incidence of cancer globally has increased in just four years from 12.7m in 2008 to 14.1m new cases in 2012, when there were 8.2m deaths. Over the next 20 years, it is expected to hit 25m a year – a 70% increase.
The biggest burden will be in low- and middle-income countries. They are hit by two types of cancers – those triggered by infections, such as cervical cancers, which are still very prevalent in poorer countries that don’t have screening, let alone the HPV vaccine, and increasingly cancers associated with more affluent lifestyles “with increasing use of tobacco, consumption of alcohol and highly processed foods and lack of physical activity”, writes the World Health Organisation director general, Margaret Chan, in an introduction to the report.