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As Nations Develop, Cancer Takes Hold

No corner of the world is safe from cancer.
No corner of the world is safe from cancer.

Cancer is everywhere.

And, before long, cancer will be a major cause of death in every part of the world, not just a big factor in what's now the developed world.

In 2030 the world's population is expected to hit 8.3 billion, up from 7 billion today. By then, new cases of cancer cases are expected to nearly double to 20.3 million from 12.8 million in 2008, according to an analysis in The Lancet Oncology.

Right now, the wealthiest parts of the globe, including the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, have the biggest cancer problem — about 38 percent of the cases in just 15 percent of the global population. The biggest cancer targets in rich places: lungs, breasts, colons and prostates.

Cancer isn't unknown in poorer countries, but the picture is different there. Cancers associated with infections, such as those of the cervix, stomach and liver, are much more prominent.

Though, it must be said, lung cancer is pretty much a scourge everywhere. The bright spot is that it has leveled off or dropped in some groups recently, such as American men.

What does the future look like? By 2030, cancers will have gone up a lot everywhere, but the countries grouped in the populous middle of the development pack, such as China and India, will see the biggest changes.

As these countries develop, the types of cancer seen will change. And likely increases in cancers related to lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking, could overshadow expected declines in cancers related to infections.

But the researchers say the forecast doesn't have to become reality. Cancers could be prevented through reductions in smoking and reductions in obesity. Vaccination against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus would also make a dent. Finally, better screening and treatment for cervical, breast and colorectal cancer would make a difference.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.