Developing world a growing cancer risk: experts

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Developing countries may account for more than half of all cancer cases in the world by 2020 as their ageing populations increase, medical experts said on Saturday.

Donald Maxwell Parkin, a senior research fellow at Oxford University in Britain, said that Asia -- which already has most of the world’s stomach and liver cancer cases -- may account for about 58 percent of all cancer cases in the world by 2020, and about 65 percent of all cases by 2050.

“Population growth will increase the number of cases,” Parkin said at the Lancet Asia Medical Forum in Singapore, adding that the elderly population in Asia was expected to more than quadruple by 2050.

Once considered a disease of wealthy nations, cancer is increasingly afflicting developing countries due to tobacco and alcohol abuse, unhealthy diets and the lack of exercise, experts said.

Limited access to key cancer treatment technology in developing countries will worsen the situation, said Jacques Ferlay, an informatics officer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer -- part of the World Health Organization.

Ferlay said about 30 African and Asian countries currently have no access to radiotherapy services.

Tobacco abuse is expected to cause one billion deaths in the world in the 21st century, 10 times the number of deaths it was estimated to have caused in the 20th century, according to Ferlay.

“Tobacco is the most important and preventable cause of cancer worldwide, and there is a need to act to limit the consequences of tobacco immediately,” he said.