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Cancer Cases Set to Soar 77% by 2050, Thanks to Aging Population
  • Posted April 5, 2024

Cancer Cases Set to Soar 77% by 2050, Thanks to Aging Population

As the world's population ages, a new report warns that the number of people with cancer could climb 77% by 2050.

In the report, published Thursday in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers from the American Cancer Society found there were about 20 million cancer cases and 9.7 million cancer deaths in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

However, “we think that number will go up to 35 million by 2050, largely due to an increasing population in the aging population,” Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, told CNN.

“A lot of the drivers for cancer that we've traditionally seen in high-income countries, such as tobacco and obesity, these same cancer drivers are now moving into the low-income countries,” Dahut noted. “These are countries that do not have the tools to find cancer early, treat cancer appropriately and prevent it in ways that are often being done in other countries.”

The good news is that those risk factors can be minimized with lifestyle changes, experts said.

“With more than half of cancer deaths worldwide being potentially preventable, prevention offers the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy for cancer control,” senior study author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance & health equity science at the ACS, said in a news release. “Elimination of tobacco use alone could prevent 1 in 4 cancer deaths, or approximately 2.6 million cancer deaths annually."

Another expert concurred.

While the causes of cancer can be complex, genetic or environmental, “about 50% of cancers are preventable,” Dr. Bilal Siddiqui, an oncologist and assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told CNN.

“All patients should talk to their doctors to ensure they receive age-appropriate cancer screenings, and it's important to make the key lifestyle changes that can reduce our risk for cancer, including stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and staying physically active,” he said.

In the new report, researchers turned to global data on cancer incidence and death from the Global Cancer Observatory, a World Health Organization database.

What did the data show?

The most common cancer types were lung, breast in women, colon, prostate, stomach, liver, thyroid, cervical, bladder and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the report. Lung cancer was also the leading cause of cancer deaths, followed by colon, liver, breast in women, stomach, pancreatic, esophagus, prostate, cervical cancer and leukemia.

Tobacco remains “the principal cause of lung cancer,” according to the report.

“While we do see lung cancers that are not related to smoking, the number one cause of lung cancer is smoking. And so obviously, there's still much work to be done in the U.S. and everywhere to continue to address the epidemic of smoking,” said Dr. Harold Burstein, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“Other things that people can do to reduce their cancer mortality include screening for early cancer detection and better outcomes. In the U.S., we have very vigorous opportunities for screening with mammography, colonoscopy and Pap smears, but these are still often under-utilized by many parts of our society,” he said. “In the more advanced economies, like the U.S., we have seen remarkable declines in the rates of mortality from breast cancer and colon cancer, probably about half of that due to early detection.”

But cancer is becoming a “bigger health problem” in lower- and middle-income regions of the world, Burstein noted.

“Cancer is a tidal wave coming into their communities,” he said. “They do not have screening mammograms in most of sub-Saharan Africa. They do not have screening mammograms in China. They do not have routine colonoscopies in many parts of the world."

"And so, dealing with both the surging prevalence, the need for early detection and screening, and then the complex treatment and care of patients with cancer is going to be a huge challenge for health care systems that are already stretched,” he added.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more on cancer.

SOURCES: CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, April 4, 2024; American Cancer Society, news release, April 4, 2024; CNN

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