The World Health Organization released its 2008 World Cancer Report Tuesday, and the numbers show that developing countries that adopt increasingly Westernized lifestyles and tobacco use are catching up to developed nations in the number of cancer deaths annually.
By 2010 cancer will surpass heart disease, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis as the leading killer in the world.
By 2030 the global cancer deaths are predicted to double. The last time a doubling of cancer rates was seen was between 1975 and 2000.
The report projects that the number of new cancer cases and deaths could more than double in the next twenty years to 27 million people with cancer and 17 million deaths annually.
The burden of cancer is shifting to developing countries such as India, China and Russia, where increasingly a Western lifestyle of smoking, fast and fatty foods and no exercise.
Cancer cases and deaths in those countries are expected to see the biggest increases of more than one percent a year.
The types of cancer are evolving too. Japan has doubled or tripled the rates of breast cancer over the last 40 years. China’s breast cancer rates have increased 20 to 30 percent, just in the last decade.
Cervical cancer leads all cancers as the primary cause of cancer deaths in women. Largely preventable and treatable with early intervention, cervical cancer is seen among women in poor regions including many countries of Africa.
Developing countries often do not have the resources to cope with cancer. And as the populations grow and age, the numbers of cancer are expected to rise as well.
Smoking-related cancers such as lung cancer, as well as breast cancer have been increasing up to five percent a year in developing countries.
The export of cigarettes to developing nations, to offset reduced sales in the U.S., are expected to have an impact from the “smoking epidemic” that has yet to been seen.
''How can we promote an addictive product that we know causes cancer, emphysema, heart disease, birth defects and other illnesses?'' asked Dr. Raymond Scalettar, member of the board of trustees of the American Medical Association criticizing the Bush Administration’s trade policy of fostering exports by U.S. tobacco companies in 1989. ''This is not an issue of free trade. It is an issue of public health policy and law.''
More than a decade ago, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute predicted that global tobacco-related mortality would rise from 2.5 million to over 10 million by 2050, largely due to tobacco imports and aggressive advertising campaign that target women.
And in developing countries, cancer treatment is just not available for many people. In Africa, many countries also forbid the importation of morphine for pain.
“Every cancer patient has the human right to have access to all aspects of supportive and palliative care and the absolute right to die a pain-free death with dignity,” says Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer and co-author of the report.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the rates of some types of cancers have dropped according to a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. There were fewer cases of lung, prostate and colorectal cancers among men and women, and among women, lung cancer death rates have leveled off.
The American Cancer Society believes the West must spread what it knows about cancer prevention to the rest of the world by a) promoting the HPV vaccine b) supporting tobacco-control programs and c) promoting culturally sensitive risk-reduction programs.
In addition there should be more investment in cancer research and early detection, according to the ACS.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Otis Brawley, tells WebMD, “People ask, ‘Why should the federal government fund research into cancer in other countries?’ The answer is that we can learn a great deal from this research and it is the right thing to do.” #