BARCELONA Cancer deaths will more than double to 17 million people each year in 2030 with poor countries shouldering the heaviest burden from the disease, the head of the United Nation's cancer agency said on Monday.
An ageing population will bump up cancer rates worldwide in the coming years, especially in developing countries where the number of people who smoke and drink is on the rise, said Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
And the disease will hit poorer countries harder because of limited health budgets and a lack of treatments such as radiotherapy that can extend people's lives, he told the European Cancer Conference.
"If we put population growth and ageing to one side the exportation of cancer risk factors, primarily tobacco smoking, from developed countries will continue to be a major determinant of cancer risk and cancer burden in less developed countries," he said.
For many years, many thought cancer was mainly a problem in rich nations in part because health officials assumed people in poorer countries did not live long enough to develop cancer.
This trend is changing, however, as residents of these nations live longer and continue cancer-causing activities like smoking that are declining in Western countries, Boyle said.
This will fuel a dramatic increase in worldwide cancer with the disease likely killing 17 million people each year by 2030, up from the current 7 million. The number of people diagnosed and living with cancer will treble to 75 million, he said.
"The big issue is ageing," he said. "The speed of the ageing of the population is something which is dramatically increasing, especially in the low and medium resource countries."
But he said Europe offers an example that something can be done because even as cancer cases rise, the disease is killing fewer people these days than expected.
This shows that programs such as increased screening and education aimed at preventing tobacco use helped whittle EU cancer deaths to 935,219 in 2000, nearly 10 percent below expectations.
"This approach has clearly paid off," he said. "In Europe good quality care exists for the great majority of people."
This is not the case in many poor countries, however, he said, noting that at least 30 African and Asian countries do not have radiotherapy machines.
Because of these kinds of deficiencies, more people will needlessly die from a rise in cancer and other chronic diseases that will stretch national health systems to the limit, he said.
He urged organizations and governments to focus more on a disease that kills more people each year than tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS combined.