GENEVA – Cancer is an enormous – and growing – global public-health problem. And, of the 7.6 million cancer deaths every year, 4.8 million occur in the developing world. A disease formerly considered more pervasive in affluent countries now places its heaviest burden on poor and disadvantaged populations.
In some African countries, fewer than 15% of cancer patients survive for five years following diagnosis of cervical and breast cancer, diseases that are highly curable elsewhere in the world. These are shocking statistics, with huge implications for human suffering, health-care systems (and budgets), and the international drive to reduce poverty. So they should be treated as a call to action.
The increase in cancer’s impact on the poor reflects factors such as demographic growth, population aging, the spread of unhealthy lifestyles (including tobacco use), and lack of control of cancer-associated infections. Though many cancers develop slowly, lifestyle changes take place with stunning speed and reach. These trends are not easily reversed.