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World Cancer Day 2017: 4 cancers that pose a global challenge

by Emma Smith | Analysis

4 February 2017

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In a series of posts for this year’s World Cancer Day, we’ll be taking a look at how 4 types of cancer affect different regions across the world, and some of the reasons behind these differences. Explore the map below to see how rates for these cancers vary, and read on for more info about our World Cancer Day series that we’ll be publishing over the next 2 weeks.

Figures we released at the end of last year painted a positive picture of cancer survival in the UK. Thanks to research, and if trends continue, there will be a 15 per cent drop in the overall cancer death rate over the next 20 years.

Add to this that more people are surviving cancer than ever before and 2017 looks a little bit brighter. But the size of the challenge we’re facing is growing too.

More people are getting cancer. As figures stand, 1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will develop cancer at some point during their lifetime. Around 350,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK, which is roughly 1 person every 2 minutes. And figures we released yesterday show that rates are climbing more quickly in women than men.

But the UK isn’t alone here. The world is a big place, and the burden of cancer is global.

Worldwide statistics collected in 2012 highlight the magnitude of the problem: around 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 8 million cancer deaths worldwide.

And like the UK, these figures are predicted to rise. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates that by 2035 the number of people worldwide diagnosed with cancer each year will rise to nearly 24 million, and around 14.6 million will lose their lives to one of the many types of the disease.

These numbers are staggering. There are just over 65 million people living in the UK today, so those worldwide figures are equivalent to more than 1 in 3 British people being told they have cancer every year.

For last year’s World Cancer Day we focused on how the research we fund is helping tackle cancer all over the world.

But this year we’re turning our focus to 4 types of cancer that affect parts of the world in different ways, and some of the causes behind these differences.

Like the UK, the main reason that more people across the world are getting cancer is simply because we’re living longer.

But there are also more specific reasons that some cancers are more common in certain regions. We’ll delve into some of these reasons, and, of course, what research and other efforts are happening right now to tackle this.

Why aren’t all countries equal when it comes to cancer?

The 4 most common cancers occurring worldwide are the same as the top four cancers diagnosed in the UK: lung, breast, bowel and prostate cancer.

In the first post in our World Cancer Day series we’ll take a closer look at lung cancer, where the impact of the disease broadly reflects smoking rates across the world. There are countries where lung cancer rates are falling because of a matching drop in smoking rates. But other countries are seeing a rapid rise in smoking, which will sadly result in lung cancer rates following suit in the future. We’ll also talk about some of the global measures we’re taking to tackle tobacco’s lethal grip on society (*Update 17/02/17* read the post about lung cancer)

But outside of the 4 most common cancers, the number of people diagnosed with different types of cancer can vary considerably depending on what part of world you’re in. Cancers that are relatively rare in developed parts of the world can be common in low- and middle-income countries, and vice versa.

One notable example are cancers linked to infections, which account for around 1 in 6 cancer cases across the world. Sadly, the weight of this burden is shouldered by poorer countries.

In the second part of our World Cancer Day series, we’ll look at cervical cancer, which can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Because this cause is known many places in the world have effective ways of preventing the disease by protecting women against infection, such as vaccination. But even in these countries, there are still a significant number of women developing cervical cancer. And we’ll look at the situation in low- and middle-income countries, where limited access to healthcare means women can’t reduce their risk of cervical cancer (*Update 17/02/17* read the post about cervical cancer).

Another type of cancer caused by infection is liver cancer, which is linked to Hepatitis B and C infection. Rates of liver cancer are rising steeply across the globe thanks to these infections, but it’s not just down to this. In part 3 of our World Cancer Day series, we talk about how western lifestyles, especially drinking alcohol, play a role in more developed parts of the world (*Update 17/02/17* read the post about liver cancer).

And finally, we’ll explore the numbers of people developing oesophageal cancer in different countries. This is an interesting and complex challenge. At first glance the disease seems fairly evenly distributed around the world. But there are 2 main types of oesophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. And it turns out they have very different patterns. We’ll take a look at these patterns in the final post in our World Cancer Day series, and explore what’s behind this (*Update 17/02/17* read the post about oesophageal cancer).

Keep an eye out for these posts, they’ll be appearing over the next few weeks.


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*Update 17/02/17* read the complete World Cancer Day series: