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Global cancer burden surge prompts the need for better cancer control and prevention

25 Feb 2022

Cancer is a malignant disease that causes increased morbidity and mortality rates globally.1 In a collaborative effort made by a research group from the University of Washington, the United States, a steady surge in global cancer burden was observed from 2010 to 2019, with a 26.3% increase in new cases and 20.9% increase in deaths.2 Based on the results, scientists concluded that improved cancer prevention and control efforts should be implemented to decrease the burden.2

The Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2019 (GBD 2019) was the largest-ever comprehensive effort to assess and analyze the prevalence of cancer, its morbidity and mortality rates across different populations worldwide. The researchers estimated the global cancer burden and trends in 29 cancer groups, across 204 countries and territories. Results showed that in a decade (2010-2019), cancer-related deaths rose from 8.29 million [95% uncertainty interval (UI): 7.89-8.57 million] to 10 million (95% UI: 9.36-10.6 million); and new cases rose from 18.7million (95% UI: 18.0-19.3 million) to 23.6 million (95% UI: 22.2-24.9 million).2

They went on to show that cancer was ranked second (with cardiovascular disease as the first) among 22 groups of diseases and injuries in the GBD 2019 study for the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), the years of life lost (YLLs) and the number of deaths. For both sexes combined, the 5 major causes of cancer-related DALYs were tracheal, bronchus and lung (TBL) cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, colon and rectum cancer, and stomach cancer. TBL cancer and breast cancer were the leading cause of mortality in men and women, respectively. During the 10-year window, the number of new cases and total cancer deaths were increased by 26.3% (95% UI: 20.3%-32.3%) and 20.9% (95% UI: 14.2%-27.6%), respectively. However, the age-standardized incidence rate and the mortality rate decreased by -1.1% (95% UI, -5.8% to 3.5%) and -5.9% (95% UI: -11.0% to -0.9%), respectively, in 75 countries and 131 territories.2

The authors further segregated cancer burden based on the socio-demographic index (SDI), a composite measure of income per capita, average educational attainment and total fertility rate for those younger than 25 years. The high SDI quintile had the highest age- standardized incidence rates and the most cases; the middle SDI quintile had the highest number of deaths and cancer-related DALYs, and the low SDI had the lowest age-standardized incidence rates and the least cases.2 The annualized rate of change in the age-standardized rates for mortality in the 10-year frame increased in the low and low-middle SDI quintile, whereas it decreased in the middle to high SDI quintiles. Likewise, the annualized rate of change in the age-standardized rates for incidence increased in the low to middle SDI quintiles, whereas it decreased in the high-middle and high SDI quintiles. With an increase in the number of cases and higher growth rate in the low and low-middle locations as opposed to the high SDI locations, more progress is required to strengthen cancer control infrastructure, improve treatment efforts, and increase access to universal health coverage for people who live in the low SDI countries. Besides, according to the future forecast of cancer incidence and mortality, low to middle-income countries will constitute over 66% of the global cancers by 2040. In a nutshell, the research work emphasized the need to accelerate cancer prevention and control efforts to reduce health loss worldwide, as well as make progress particularly to benefit the lower SDI locations.2 However, due to the current pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the progress has been hampered globally, leading to delays in cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.2

In short, this robust and systematic analysis revealed the surge of global cancer burden. To address this, the researchers emphasized the need to implement national cancer control plans, which include cost-effective and realistic approaches to prevent, diagnose and manage the disease. “These results provide comprehensive and comparable estimates that can potentially inform efforts towards equitable cancer control around the world,” the researchers concluded.2

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