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Are cancer rates really on the rise worldwide?

Cancer impacts people of all ethnicities, sexual identities, and economic backgrounds. Although cancer prevention and treatment strategies have improved over the years, cancer diagnoses appear to be rising.

But have cancer rates really increased? And if so, what factors are playing a role? To try and answer these questions, Medical News Today investigated the latest data and statistics on cancer prevalence and mortality rates.

We also spoke with two experts about cancer rates and the impact COVID-19 may have had on cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

How prevalent is cancer currently?

According to one study published in JAMA OncologyTrusted Source, and based on data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, 2019Trusted Source, 18.7 million people worldwide received a cancer diagnosis in 2010, and the total deaths from cancer numbered 8.29 million.

Fast forward to 2019, and those numbers had increased significantly, with 23.6 million people receiving a new cancer diagnosis and records documenting 10 million cancer deaths.

The scientists who conducted the research also found that among 22 groups of injuries and diseases studied, cancer was the second leading cause of death, years of life lost, and disability-adjusted life years.

The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source indicates that the most common types of cancers diagnosed in 2020 were:

  • breast cancer (2.26 million diagnoses)
  • lung cancer (2.21 million diagnoses)
  • colon and rectal cancer (1.93 million diagnoses)
  • prostate cancer (1.41 million diagnoses)
  • nonmelanoma skin cancer (1.20 million diagnoses)
  • stomach cancer (1.09 million diagnoses)

Furthermore, lung cancer caused 1.8 million deaths, closely followed by:

  • colorectal cancer (935,000 deaths)
  • liver cancer (830,000 deaths)
  • stomach cancer (769,000 deaths)
  • breast cancer (685,000 deaths)

StatisticsTrusted Source indicate that males experience a higher cancer mortality rate than females. Additionally, the death rate from cancer is highest among Black males and lowest among Asian and Pacific Islander females.

Yet despite these statistics, the American Cancer SocietyTrusted Source suggests that, in the United States, the overall cancer mortality rate has been steadily decreasing over the last 28 years. For example, the organization indicates the death rate from cancer fell 32%Trusted Source between 1991 and 2019 when considering data from males and females.

Factors that may play a role in this decrease include:

  • a reduction in the number of people who smoke, as smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer
  • the addition of chemotherapy treatment after surgery for breast and colon cancer
  • the use of combination therapy for many cancers
  • the advancement of prevention and early detection strategies for some cancer types

In addition, the organization reports an increase in the 3-year survival rate for people living with lung cancer. For example, in 2004, 21 in 100 people with a diagnosis of lung cancer were living 3 years after diagnosis. In 2018, that number rose to 31 in 100 people.

Progress with diagnosing lung cancer in the localized stage and improvements in surgical techniques and treatment medications may play a role in the improved survival rate.

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