Cancer experts say lifestyle changes could alter dire predictions that cancer cases could climb 77% by 2050 as the world ages. Many of the cancers that kill worldwide are linked to individual choices and behaviors.

The sobering predictions come from the American Cancer Society’s Global Cancer Statistics 2024 report, released Thursday. It says that roughly 20 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2022, the last year for which data is available, and that nearly 10 million people died because of cancer globally.

By 2050, the estimate is 35 million cancer cases will be diagnosed each year.

Cancers that are more common in an aging population are expected to drive the increase. But about half of cancers are believed to be preventable through lifestyle changes and use of available vaccines.

“Notably, the prevalence of major risk factors such as consumption of unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are increasing in many parts of the world and will likely exacerbate the future burden of cancer barring any large-scale interventions,” Dr. Hyuna Sung, senior principal scientist of cancer surveillance at the American Cancer Society and co-author of a new report, said in a statement.

“With more than half of cancer deaths worldwide being potentially preventable, prevention offers the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy for cancer control,” Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society and senior author of the study, said in the news release. “Elimination of tobacco use alone could prevent 1 in 4 cancer deaths or approximately 2.6 million cancer deaths annually.”

Per CNN, “Those estimates suggest that about 1 in 5 people who are alive now will develop cancer in their lifetime, and around 1 in 9 men and 1 in 12 women will die from the disease.”

The report, with findings from American Cancer Society researchers and the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in the International Agency for Research on Cancer, was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, alongside the consumer-friendly Global Cancer Facts & Figures 5th Edition. The estimates themselves were based on data from the World Health Organization.

Who cancer kills

Among the report’s findings:

  • Daily in 2022, roughly 1,800 women worldwide were diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 1,000 women died from the disease. More women die from cervical cancer in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America than from any other causes. Challenges include low uptake of the vaccine against human papillomavirus and inadequate screening globally. Screening rates range from 4% of eligible women in Ethiopia to almost all women in the Netherlands and Sweden.
  • Low-income countries often have high death rates from cancer even though they have low cancer incidence, “largely due to lack of or inadequate early detection and treatment services.” The report cites Ethiopia, where the incidence rate for breast cancer is 60% lower than in the United States, but the death rate is twice as high.
  • Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and it is the No. 1 cause of cancer death for men worldwide, with almost 2.5 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.
  • Cancer incidence and mortality vary by gender. Worldwide, for males, after lung cancer, the highest-incidence cancers are prostate and colorectal cancers, while liver and colorectal cancers kill the most men. For women, it is breast cancer that is most often diagnosed and that is the top killer, then lung, colorectal and cervical cancers.

“While we do see lung cancers that are not related to smoking, the No. 1 cause of lung cancer is smoking. And so obviously, there’s still much work to be done in the U.S. and everywhere to continue to address the epidemic of smoking,” Dr. Harold Burstein, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor at Harvard Medical School, told CNN. He was not involved in the new report.

Burstein said improving air quality is another way to improve lung cancer deaths that aren’t smoking-related.

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Top cancers worldwide

WHO reported in February that 10 types of cancer account for about two-thirds of the new cases and the deaths around the world in 2022, using data from 185 countries and 36 cancers.

“Lung cancer was the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide with 2.5 million new cases accounting for 12.4% of the total new cases. Female breast cancer ranked second (2.3 million cases, 11.6%), followed by colorectal cancer (1.9 million cases, 9.6%), prostate cancer (1.5 million cases, 7.3%), and stomach cancer (970,000 cases, 4.9%),” per the WHO report.

According to WHO, “Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death (1.8 million deaths, 18.7% of the total cancer deaths) followed by colorectal cancer (900,000 deaths, 9.3%), liver cancer (760,000 deaths, 7.8%), breast cancer (670,000 deaths, 6.9%) and stomach cancer (660,000 deaths, 6.8%). Lung cancer’s re-emergence as the most common cancer is likely related to persistent tobacco use in Asia.”