Cancer will kill nearly 10 million people this year, report estimates

Promising new research enabled scientists to screen for different types of cancer at an early stage using a blood test.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of people around the world who have cancer is “rapidly growing,” with 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018 alone, researchers estimate in a new report.

By the end of the century, cancer will be the No. 1 killer globally and the single biggest barrier to increasing our life expectancy, according to the report, released Wednesday by the World’s Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Cancer by the numbers

The researchers used data from 185 countries, looking at all the places in the body cancer can occur and taking a deeper look at 36 types.

Based on this data, one in five men and one in six women will develop cancer during their lifetime, the researchers estimate. One in eight men and one in 11 women will die from the disease.

The number of cancer cases is increasing for a number of reasons, the report says: The global population is growing, and more people means more cancer. The population is also aging, and cancer risks grow as you age. The numbers also look worse because in many countries, stroke and heart disease deaths are declining.

Cancer varies by region

The likelihood that you’ll get cancer or die from it depends, in part, on where you live. Nearly half of the new cancer cases and more than half the cancer deaths worldwide were in Asia, home to 60% of the world’s population.

The Americas, however, have their own serious problems with the disease, with 21% of cancer incidences and 14.4% of cancer deaths, despite having only 13.3% of the world’s population. Europe accounts for 23.4% of cancer cases and 20.3% of the deaths, but only 9% of the world’s population.

The good news is that prevention efforts seem to pay off, the report says. Countries with strong public awareness campaigns and laws that encourage people to quit smoking, such as in Northern Europe and North America, have seen a decline in the number of cases of lung cancer. Cervical cancer cases have declined in countries with concerted efforts to screen for it.

In countries with strong economies, the number of cancers coming from poverty and infections has declined, but those associated with what researchers call lifestyle choices, such as obesity and drinking, have gone up.

The top five most deadly

Lung, breast and colorectal cancers are the ones people get the most. Lung cancer is the most deadly, with 1.8 million deaths — 18.4% of total cancer deaths for 2018, according to the report. Colorectal comes in second for mortality, with 881,000 deaths, and breast cancer fifth with 627,000 deaths. Combined, these three cancers account for a third of estimated cancer deaths globally in 2018.

Stomach cancer (783,000 deaths) and liver cancer (782,000 deaths) are the third and fourth most prevalent cancer deaths in 2018.

Cancer in men vs. women

The incidence rate for all cancers combined was about 20% higher in men than in women, and deaths were nearly 50% higher for men.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer among men with 14.5% of the estimated cases, compared to 8.4% for women in 2018. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in men, followed by prostate, colorectal, liver and stomach cancer.

For women, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed. About one in four new cancer cases diagnosed in women worldwide occurs in the breast, and it is the most common cancer for women in 154 of the 185 countries in the new study. If caught early, breast cancer can be a manageable disease, but it is still the leading cancer cause of death in women, followed by lung, colorectal and cervical cancer.

There’s growing concern about the types of cancer women experience, according to the report. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death for women in 28 countries, with the highest incidence in North America, Northern and Western Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand. Hungary has the highest rate of women dying from lung cancer; many of those cases are smoking-related.

“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 Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “Efficient prevention and early detection policies must be implemented urgently to complement treatments in order to control this devastating disease across the world.”