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The Global Burden of Cancer

Photo of hospital staff at a cancer center in Viet Nam collecting data from stacks of medical records.

Hospital staff at a cancer center in Viet Nam collect data from stacks of medical records.

Today, more than twice as many people die from cancer than from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that without immediate action, the global number of deaths from cancer will increase by about 80% by 2030, with most occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Today, more than half of new cancer cases and about two-thirds of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, but only 5% of global cancer resources are spent there.

Research shows that one-third of cancer deaths can be prevented through screening tests, vaccinations, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking. But many services and technologies that can help prevent and treat cancer are not widely available in low- and middle-income countries.

Many areas also lack cancer registries that help track cancer cases and deaths. About 95% of the North American population is covered by cancer registries compared to about 2% of the African population.

Cervical Cancer Disparities

About 85% of all new cervical cancer cases and 87% of all cervical cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Cervical cancer is decreasing in the United States, but the rate remains high in many countries, mostly because of a lack of screening and treatment services.

The United States, Europe, and North Africa have much lower cervical cancer rates than Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Uganda. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 35 cervical cancer cases are diagnosed for every 100,000 women, compared with only about 7 cases for every 100,000 women in North America. About 23 women per 100,000 die from cervical cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to about 3 per 100,000 in North America.

Types of Cancer

Breast, colorectal, and lung cancers have been much more common in countries with greater health resources. However, areas with fewer resources are now experiencing increasing numbers of these cancers because people are living longer and have more cancer-related risk factors such as tobacco use, poor nutrition, and obesity.

The most common cancers in low- and middle-income countries are lung, breast, stomach, liver, and colorectal. In contrast, the most common cancers worldwide are lung, breast, colorectal, prostate, and stomach. Many of the top cancers can be prevented or treated if found early.

Chronic infections like HPV, Hepatitis B and C, and H. pylori account for 16% of all cancers worldwide and 23% in low- and middle-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest percentage of cancers caused by infections (33%), while North America has one of the smallest (less than 4%).