Developing nations to bear cancer brunt, unprepared

HONG KONG, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Developing countries will bear 60 percent of the world's cancer burden by 2020 and 70 percent by 2030, but are not prepared for the looming crisis, cancer experts warned in a report on Thursday.

These countries do not have the infrastructure in place to prevent cancer, diagnose it early or provide long-term treatment, according to CanTreat International, which comprises experts from leading international cancer organisations.

"Developed countries have been setting up plans and systems to cope with cancer all the time, but developing countries are not ready ... treatment, diagnoses are made very late or not at all, so the (death) toll is much, much higher," Joseph Saba, a medical doctor and member of the group, said in an interview.

CanTreat stands for the Informal Working Group on Cancer Treatment in Developing Countries. Its report was unveiled during the World Cancer Congress in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

There were 7.6 million cancer fatalities worldwide in 2008, making it a leading cause of death. The developing world made up 5.3 million, or 70 percent. By 2050, low-income countries alone will account for three-quarters of all cancer deaths.

The economic impact of premature death and disability from cancer worldwide was $895 billion in 2008, excluding treatment costs, according to the American Cancer Society.

With changes in diet, worsening pollution, ageing populations, rising obesity rates, tobacco use and alcohol intake, developing countries are now saddled with more non-communicable diseases including heart problems, strokes, diabetes and cancers, in addition to infectious diseases.

There were 12.67 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2008, with developing nations representing 56 percent of the total. By 2020, there will be an estimated 15 million new cancer cases, 60 percent of which will be in the developing world.

According to the CanTreat report, while a breast cancer patient has an 84 percent chance of surviving for at least five more years in the United States, it is only 12 percent in Gambia.

Cure rates for childhood cancer are 75 percent in high-income countries but 10 to 15 percent in low-income countries.

"We need centres for early diagnoses, trained doctors and nurses, follow-up mechanisms," Saba said.

Saba urged health experts to learn from the experience of managing HIV/AIDS in the last 30 years: people will only come forward for screening if there are proper treatments in place.

"If you don't have proper treatment, why do you want early detection if you can't do anything about it? Treatment becomes the engine of cancer control," he said.

Their report comes days after a group of scientists said in The Lancet journal that many cancers in developing countries could be treated using drugs that are off-patent and manufactured generically at affordable prices. (Editing by Chris Lewis and Alex Richardson)