September 17, 2012
2 min read

Worldwide cancer burden to cost trillions without action, experts warn

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Without sustained action, cancer incidence is projected to increase by 70% in middle-income countries and 82% in lower-income countries by 2030, according to international experts who gathered at the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit, a policy meeting held in conjunction with the World Cancer Congress.

Because developing nations lack the socio-economic infrastructure to cope with the increasing number of people affected by the disease, cancer and other noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lung disease will result in more than $7 trillion in lost economic productivity in low- and middle-income economies by 2025, those experts said.

“An unsustainable burden is falling on these nations, both economically and socially,” Christopher P. Wild, PhD, director for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said in a press release. “The international cancer community must commit support and expertise to help the developing world combat this trend through measures adapted to the specific cancer patterns occurring in these countries.”

A 2011 WHO report noted the introduction of global interventions — designed to help prevent several million deaths due to noncommunicable diseases — would cost approximately $11 billion per year to implement yet preserve several billions of dollars of additional global economic output.

The most important component is higher tobacco taxes to help discourage smoking, Prabhat Jha, MD, PhD, professor of economics for the Canada Research Chair of Health and Development at the University of Toronto, said at a press conference.

France halved its cigarette consumption — from six cigarettes per adult per day to three — in 15 years because of increased taxation on tobacco, Jha said. Lung cancer rates in young men are beginning to decline, as well.

Tobacco taxation also offers a significant amount of economic return. If you spend $1 on tobacco taxes, you get $40 back in economic benefits, Jha said.

“A Congressional Budget Office report released just in the last month argues that a 50-cent tax hike on tobacco products in the United States would reduce the federal deficit by $42 billion, raise $38 billion more in revenue, contribute $3 billion in improved labor productivity, and have no impact on Medicaid and Medicare,” he said.

Wild suggested there is a disconnect when it comes to allocating economic resources.

“There is a very common saying that prevention is better than cure,” Wild said at the press conference. “But when we actually look at the way we spend money in cancer research, we put most of it into better understanding treatment. There is a mismatch at the moment, an imbalance. We need to draw money back into the prevention areas.”

More than 40 countries have few to no statistics about cancer burden in their country. Developing countries will never have the ability to control cancer if they do not know the cases and the rates at which they are occurring, Wild said.

“We can’t treat our way out of cancer, particularly in developing countries,” Wild said. “The human and financial resources are just not there.”

Wild recommended encouraging countries to look at their own particular pattern of cancers and have national organizations provide support where needed.

“National cancer control programs evaluate the best ways to control and prevent cancer at country level,” Oleg Chestnov, MD, assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health at WHO, said in a press release. “Governments who early on committed to address noncommunicable diseases are already seeing progress in reducing cancer, diagnosing sooner and saving lives. Based on these successful examples, more countries should implement similar programs.”