Cancer deaths hit 10 million in 2020

Breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the most diagnosed cancer on the planet in 2020.

As the COVID pandemic overshadowed yesterday’s World Cancer Day, global cancer estimates from found the level of the disease increased to 19.3 million new cases and 10 million deaths in 2020.

The collaborative report, Global Cancer Statistics 2020, from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Data said that 1 in 5 men and women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and 1 in 8 men and 1 in 11 women die from the disease.

Among the most striking developments revealed by the new figures is that female breast cancer has become the most commonly diagnosed cancer type in the world, with 2.3 million cases diagnosed in 2020, exceeding the number of new cases of lung cancer for the first time. Breast cancer now accounts for 11.7% of all new cancer cases in both sexes.

Data showed that lung cancer remained the leading cause of cancer death with an estimated 1.8 million deaths (18%), followed by colorectal (9.4%), liver (8.3%), stomach (7.7%), and female breast (6.9%) cancers. Lung cancer death rates are 3 to 4 times higher in transitioned countries than in transitioning countries, however, this pattern may well change as the tobacco epidemic evolves given that 80% of smokers reside in low- and middle- income countries. With about two-thirds of lung cancer deaths worldwide attributable to smoking, the disease can be largely prevented through effective tobacco control policies and regulations.

“The burden of cancer incidence and mortality is rapidly growing worldwide, and reflects both aging and growth of the population, as well as changes in the prevalence and distribution of the main risk factors for cancer, several of which are associated with socioeconomic development,” said Freddie Bray, senior author of the report and Head of the Section of Cancer Surveillance at IARC, in a statement. “Effective and resource-sensitive preventative and curative interventions are pertinent for cancer diagnosis. Tailored integration into health planning can serve to reduce the global burden of cancer and narrow the evident cancer inequities between transitioning and transitioned countries observed today.”

According to the report, an estimated 28.4 million new cancer cases are projected to occur in 2040, a 47% rise from 2020 globally. Transitioning countries are experiencing a larger relative increase in cancer incidence (64% to 95%) versus transitioned (32% to 56%) countries due to demographic changes. The authors state that this may be further exacerbated by increasing risk factors associated with globalisation and a growing economy. The authors warned that the growing rate of incidence could overwhelm health care systems, if left uncontrolled. Efforts to build a sustainable infrastructure for the dissemination of proven cancer prevention measures and the provision of cancer care in transitioning countries are critical for global cancer control.

In 2020, breast cancer made up 11.7% of all new cancer cases globally, followed by lung cancer (11.4%), colorectal cancer (10.0%), prostate cancer (7.3%), and stomach cancer (5.6%). The highest incidence rates of breast cancer (new cases per population) occurred in women in high income countries, such as those in North America (~90 new cases per 100 000 women) and Europe.

Incidence rates were substantially lower, but are increasing, in many low- and middle-income countries. With timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, breast cancer generally has a very good prognosis. The number of women who are alive today and who were diagnosed with breast cancer within the past 5 years is estimated to be almost 8 million, higher than the number of cancer survivors for any other cancer type. However, breast cancer survival is not uniformly high around the world. There are substantial disparities in survival between more-developed and less-developed countries, as well as between different social groups within countries. These disparities are due in part to reduced access to early diagnosis and timely completion of treatment.

“Dramatic changes in lifestyle and built environment have had an impact on the prevalence of breast cancer risk factors such as excess body weight, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, postponement of childbearing, fewer childbirths, and less breastfeeding,” the authors noted. “The increasing prevalence of these factors associated with social and economic transition results in a convergence toward the risk factor profile of transitioned countries and is narrowing international gaps in the breast cancer morbidity.”