As countries modernize around the world, they’re increasingly being hit with one of the curses of wealth: cancer.
There are about 14 million new cancer cases globally each year, the World Health Organization reported Monday. And the trend is only getting worse.
The global burden of cancer will grow by 70 percent over the next two decades, the WHO predicts, with an estimated 22 million new cases and 13 million deaths each year by 2032.
The majority of cases now occur in low- and middle-income countries, the agency found. Many of these nations’ health care systems are ill-equipped to deal with the flood of complicated conditions that go along with disease.
Cancer in the developing world is a “time bomb,” says Dr. Bernard Stewart, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, who helped edit the WHO report. The problem, Stewart says, is that treatment availability for cancer hasn’t kept up with the rise in its prevalence.
The long-held idea that cancer is a disease that affects primarily rich countries is slowly being undermined.
You’re still more likely to get cancer if you live in a wealthy country than if you live in a developing one. But you’re more likely to die from the disease if you live in a poor country because cancer is often detected later in developing countries, and treatments are limited.
"The drug treatment path is simply not an option for the vast majority of low-income countries," Stewart says.
Top: Annual number of new cancer cases and deaths, worldwide, is expected to rise about 60 percent over the next two decades.
Middle: Breast cancer represents about a quarter of all cancers reported among women worldwide. But in parts of Africa and South America, cervical cancer is a bigger problem.
Bottom: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men in the West, while lung and liver cancers are the top problems in Asia.
Graph by Michaeleen Doucleff/NPR. Maps courtesy of the World Health Organization.