Cancer deaths increase in 2018 despite better treatment, prevention measures

File image of a skin cancer check

Cancer will kill nearly 10 million people this year, experts said on Wednesday, warning that the global burden of the disease continues to rise despite better prevention and earlier diagnosis.

It is estimated that 18.1 million new cancer cases were predicted worldwide in 2018, with 9.6 million deaths, according to a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

This is up to 14.1 million new cases of cancer and 8.2 million deaths reported in the agency's latest assessment just six years ago.

The number of victims is increasing as populations expand and age, and people in developing nations adopt unhealthy and high-risk lifestyles traditionally associated with richer economies.

A greater focus on prevention: encouraging people to exercise, stop smoking and follow a healthy diet caused a decrease in certain types of cancer in some population groups, IARC said.

However, the total number of new cases is ahead of efforts to contain the disease.

"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," said IARC Director Christopher Wild.

One in five men and one in six women will develop cancer during their lifetime, according to the study, and the World Health Organization expects the disease to be the leading cause of death in the 21st century.

There are dozens of types of cancer, and the agency found large differences between countries due to a number of socioeconomic factors.

The greatest murderer

Asia, as expected given its huge population, accounted for almost half of all new cases and more than half of cancer deaths worldwide by 2018.

Lung cancer remains the main killer in general, responsible for about 1.8 million deaths, almost a quarter of the world's balance.

For women, breast cancer caused 15 percent of cancer deaths, followed by lung cancer (13.8 percent) and colorectal cancer (9.5 percent).

The figures highlighted a worrisome increase in lung cancer rates for women: it is now the leading cause of cancer deaths in 28 countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, China and New Zealand.

The data showed that cancers traditionally associated with the lifestyles of rich countries – more overweight people who are less likely to exercise – were increasingly common in developing countries.

"One of the things that happens with transitions to high levels of socioeconomic development are changes in the environment," Freddie Bray, head of cancer surveillance at IARC, told AFP.

"There is more physical inactivity and that is a particularly high-risk factor for colon cancer, for example."

Missing Momentum

Bray said that models that use current cancer statistics and predicted trends predict up to 29 million new cases per year by 2040.

"The degree to which this is becoming a major public health problem and the diversity of cancers that we see in different regions is also a striking point," said Bray.

Measures against cancer may take the form of stricter tobacco controls to limit lung cancer, or initiatives to encourage physical activity to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

But the study warned that global efforts to control one of humanity's main killers still "lacked momentum."

"Whether from a social or economic point of view, the numbers are increasing," Bray said.

This means that "there is a need to invest in prevention and public health programs, and to develop the capacity of health services, particularly in low- to middle-income countries".