Officials from the World Health Organization are warning that countries around the globe must take immediate action to prevent an impending “tidal wave” of cancer. In a new report, WHO estimates that the number of cancer cases will increase by 70 percent over the next two decades, and could reach 24 million per year by 2035.
“The global cancer burden is increasing and quite markedly,” Chris Wild, the director of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, told BBC News. “If we look at the cost of treatment of cancers, it is spiraling out of control, even for the high-income countries. Prevention is absolutely critical and it’s been somewhat neglected.”
The WHO’s new research echoes earlier projections that have also estimated a huge jump in global cancer cases. Of course, this has a direct impact on the increasing number of people dying from these diseases. The cancer mortality rate rose by eight percent in between 2008 and 2012.
Researchers attribute the spike in cancer diagnoses partly to population growth and aging. But they’re particularly concerned about preventable cancers that stem from lifestyle choices and environmental factors — like the diseases that are linked to alcohol, tobacco, air pollution, obesity, and radiation.
One of the report’s authors, Dr. Bernard Stewart, noted that the evidence about cancer brings up important questions about the role of government regulation. Is it appropriate for countries to rethink the way that alcohol is advertised and taxed? Should sugar be more strictly limited, since it directly contributes to obesity-related health issues?
In general, WHO officials have been outspoken about the need for governments to take an active role in limiting the substances that pose a threat to public health. Another recent report from the agency warned that a lack of governmental regulation is fueling the global obesity epidemic, and it will only get worse until countries take serious steps to intervene in their economies and create disincentives for selling highly processed foods.
WHO’s report warns that poorer countries will shoulder most of the burden of the increasing rates of cancer — a trend that’s already becoming evident when it comes to breast cancer, which is skyrocketing in developing nations where women lack access to treatment. Less developed countries are projected to see a 44 percent increase in cancer rates over the next decade, compared to a 20 percent increase in wealthier nations. The economic divides are partly due to a lack of access to modern health services and screening programs, but they’re also a result of lower-income countries adopting some of the lifestyle choices in more developed areas, like eating more processed food.