Disclosures: Sung reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the report for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
February 04, 2021
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Breast cancer supersedes lung as most common cancer diagnosis

Disclosures: Sung reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the report for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Female breast cancer has become the most common cancer worldwide, with an estimated 2.3 million new cases diagnosed last year alone, according to the Global Cancer Statistics 2020 report.

Lung cancer remained the top cause of cancer mortality, responsible for about 1.8 million deaths in 2020.

Female breast cancer has become the most common cancer worldwide, with an estimated 2.3 million new cases diagnosed last year.

The report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, is a product of long-standing collaboration between American Cancer Society and International Agency for Research on Cancer that aims to support and promote cancer prevention and control efforts worldwide, Hyuna Sung, PhD, principal scientist at American Cancer Society, told Healio.

Hyuna Sung, PhD
Hyuna Sung

“We intended to provide a contemporary and comprehensive global overview of patterns in cancer burden and present the most up-to-date global cancer statistics in terms of cancer occurrence and deaths due to cancer according to sex, geography and levels of development,” Sung said. “Understanding the contemporary burden of the disease is an essential step to monitor progress made against cancer and identify disparities across the globe.”

In the report, researchers highlighted differences in incidence and mortality among cancer types, as well as inequities in cancer control efforts around the world.

Approximately 19.3 million new cancers were diagnosed in 2020 and nearly 10 million cancer-associated deaths occurred. Female breast cancer was the most common cancer diagnosis, accounting for 11.7% of cases, followed by lung (11.4%), colorectal (10%), prostate (7.3%) and stomach (5.6%) cancers.

Cancer deaths were highest for lung cancer (18%), followed by colorectal (9.4%), liver (8.3%), stomach (7.7%) and female breast (6.9%) cancers.

Researchers also compared cancer incidence and mortality among transitioned countries, or those with a high or very high Human Development Index classification according to the U.N.’s 2019 Human Development Report, and transitioning countries, or those with a low or medium index classification.

They found higher cancer incidence in transitioned vs. transitioning countries among both men and women, with greater variations in mortality among men than women. However, death rates were higher in transitioning vs. transitioned countries for female breast cancer (15 per 100,000 vs. 12.8 per 100,000) and cervical cancer (12.4 per 100,000 vs. 5.2 per 100,000).

“The information provided in this report may not directly inform oncologists’ everyday clinical practice. Nevertheless, being aware of the global cancer burden and startling inequities in global control efforts is important to bring momentum and consensus to the cancer control community so that it can escalate the equitable implementation of proven cancer control measures,” Sung said. “Oncologists may find a specific topic or cancers of interest that are most relevant to their professional, local and national setting and learn the prospect for cancer prevention.”

Sung and colleagues hypothesized that the global cancer burden will increase 47% by 2040, to an estimated 28.4 million cases, and they anticipate higher increases in transitioning (64%-95%) vs. transitioned (32%-56%) countries as a result of demographic changes.

Although the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet known, delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment, suspension of screening programs, and reduced availability of and access to care are expected to cause short-term decreases in cancer incidence followed by increases in advanced-stage diagnoses and cancer mortality, according to Sung.

“Oncologists should refer to the recommendations that are provided for cancer care during the pandemic by their proper national and scientific societies and implement best practices to ensure safe and efficient screening for cancer and to avoid delays in cancer treatment,” Sung said. “With the rapid evolution of the pandemic, timely updates of clinical practice guidelines are also necessary.”

For more information:

Hyuna Sung, PhD, can be reached at American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St., Atlanta, GA 30303; email: hyuna.sung@cancer.org.