There were an estimated 20 million new cases of cancer in 2022, with more than 35 million new cases predicted by 2050.
The number of new cases of cancer worldwide will reach 35 million in 2050, 77% more than in 2022, according to forecasts by the World Health Organization’s cancer control agency.
A investigation conducted by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cited tobacco, alcohol, obesity and air pollution as key factors in the predicted increase.
“More than 35 million new cases of cancer are expected in 2050,” the IARC said in a press release, an increase of 77% compared to the approximately 20 million cases diagnosed in 2022.
“The new estimates certainly highlight the magnitude of cancer today and, indeed, the growing cancer burden that is predicted over the coming years and decades,” Freddie Bray, head of the cancer surveillance at the IARC.
There were approximately 9.7 million deaths from cancer in 2022, the IARC said in the press release accompanying its biannual report based on data from 185 countries and 36 cancers.
About one in five people develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in nine men and one in 12 women die from it, the report added.
“The rapid increase in the global cancer burden reflects both population aging and growth, as well as changes in people’s exposure to risk factors, many of which are associated with socioeconomic development. Tobacco, alcohol and obesity are key drivers of increasing cancer incidence, with air pollution remaining a key contributor to environmental risk factors,” the IARC said.
Lower income burden
The IARC also pointed out that the threat of cancer varies depending on where the patient lives.
Most developed countries are expected to see the largest increases in cases, with an additional 4.8 million new cases predicted in 2050 compared to 2022 estimates, the agency said.
But in terms of percentages, countries at the bottom of the Human Development Index (HDI) – used by the United Nations as a marker of societal and economic development – will see the largest proportional increase, up 142 percent .
At the same time, countries in the medium term are expected to see an increase of 99 percent, according to the report.
“One of the biggest challenges we see is that the proportional increase in cancer burden will be most striking in countries with low income and low human development,” Bray told Al Jazeera.
“They’re going to see a projected increase of more than double the burden by 2050.
“And these are really the countries that are currently ill-equipped to really deal with the cancer problem. And it will only get bigger and there will be more patients in cancer hospitals in the future.
Bray said that although there are more than 100 different types of cancer, the top five cancers account for about 50 percent of cases.
“Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world… particularly in men, while breast cancer is certainly the most common cancer in women,” he said.
The IARC also said that different types of cancer are now affecting more and more populations as lifestyles change. For example, colorectal cancer is now the third most common cancer and the second in terms of deaths. Colorectal cancer is particularly linked to age as well as lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
“Much more investment should be made in early diagnosis and screening (of cancers). There should be a lot more investment in disease prevention,” as well as palliative care for those who are suffering, Bray said.