In line with World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization has highlighted how breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the most common form of cancer worldwide.
In light of these findings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in December 2020, the WHO will host the first of a series of consultations to establish a new global breast cancer initiative, which will launch later in 2021. This collaborative effort between WHO, IARC, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other multi-sectoral partners, will reduce deaths from breast cancer by promoting breast health, improving timely cancer detection, and ensuring access to quality care.
The global rise of cancer
In the past two decades, the overall number of people diagnosed with cancer nearly doubled from an estimated 10 million in 2000 to 19.3 million in 2020. Today, one in five people worldwide will develop cancer during their lifetime and projections suggest that diagnoses of cancer will be nearly 50% higher in 2040 than in 2020.
The number of deaths from cancer has also increased, from 6.2 million in 2000 to 10 million in 2020, with more than one out of every six deaths being due to cancer.
Factors such as unhealthy diets, insufficient physical activity, use of tobacco, and harmful use of alcohol have contributed to the increasing cancer burden, as well as increasing longevity, as the risk of developing cancer increases with age – reinforcing the need to invest in both cancer prevention and cancer control.
Cancer and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems of late-stage diagnosis and lack of access to treatment, and people living with cancer are also at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death.
A WHO survey conducted in 2020 indicated that treatment for cancer had been disrupted in more than 40% of countries surveyed during the pandemic, and enrolment in clinical trials and research output have declined.
The WHO has highlighted that health professionals have adapted treatment to meet the needs of their patients, including using telemedicine, and civil society has supported patients by helping them co-ordinate their appointments and complete their treatment plans.