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Cancer deaths estimated at 9.6 million this year as populations age

In emerging economies, researchers find a shift from cancers related to poverty and infections toward cancers linked to wealthier lifestyles and diets.

Cancer will claim the lives of 9.6 million people in 2018, accounting for one in eight of all deaths among men and one in 11 among women, the World Health Organization's cancer research agency said on Wednesday.

In a report detailing prevalence and death rates from many different types of cancer, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer said the global cancer burden would rise to an estimated 18.1 million new cases this year. This was up from 14.1 million — and 8.2 million deaths — in 2012, when the last global cancer survey was published.

The agency said the rising cancer burden — characterized as the number of new cases, the prevalence, and the number of deaths — was due to several factors, including social and economic development and growing and aging populations.

In emerging economies, it said, there is also a shift from cancers related to poverty and infections toward cancers linked to lifestyles and diets more typical of wealthier countries.

Lung cancer — caused mainly by smoking — is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, the report said. And along with breast cancer, lung cancer causes among the highest number of new cases of the disease: 2.1 million new cases of each are expected to be diagnosed this year alone.

Chemotherapy drugs are administered to a patient at North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on May 25, 2017.
Chemotherapy drugs are administered to a patient.Gerry Broome / AP file

With an estimated 1.8 million new cases in 2018, colorectal or bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, followed by prostate cancer and then stomach cancer.

"These new figures highlight that much remains to be done to address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally, and that prevention has a key role to play," the agency's director, Christopher Wild, said in a statement with the report.

He called for efficient prevention and early detection policies to be implemented urgently "to control this devastating disease across the world."

The cancer agency's report said prevention efforts — such as stop-smoking campaigns, screenings, and human papillomavirus vaccinations — may have helped reduce incidence rates for some cancers, such as lung cancer among men in Northern Europe and North America and cervical cancer in most regions other than sub-Saharan Africa.

But it added that most countries still face an overall rise in the number of cancer cases diagnosed and needing treatment.

Worldwide, the total number of people who are alive within five years of a cancer diagnosis, called the five-year prevalence, is estimated to be 43.8 million.

Global patterns showed that for men and women combined, nearly half of new cancer cases and more than half of cancer deaths worldwide in 2018 will be in Asia, in part because the region has nearly 60 percent of the global population.

Europe accounts for 23.4 percent of global cancer cases and 20.3 percent of cancer deaths, although it has only 9 percent of the global population.

The Americas have 13.3 percent of the global population and account for 21 percent of cancer cases and 14.4 percent of cancer deaths.