WHO Raises Alarm over Impact of Cancer


The World Health Organization (WHO) says the number of people diagnosed with Cancer worldwide reached 19.3 million in 2020.  The number of deaths in the same year was 10 million. The disclosure of the alarming rate of cancer coincides with the observance of World Cancer Day on February 2, 2021.

Globally, WHO said Cancer is the second leading cause of death; with 70% of people dying from Cancer according to a release living in low- and middle-income countries.

Currently, one in 5 people worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime; one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease,” said the WHO release. 

Among women, breast cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

Breast cancer, according to the WHO, is now the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide (11.7% of new cases), followed by lung cancer (11.4%), colorectal cancer (10.0%) and prostate cancer (7.3%).

In women, Cervical (neck) cancer is the fourth most common cancer, and Cancer, in general, is also a leading cause of death for children and adolescents, with an estimated 400,000 children diagnosed each year.

In Liberia’s population of 5,057,677 (Globalcan, 2020) with males constituting 2,542,539 and females 2,515,138, World Health Organization’s Cancer statistics of the country shows that there are 1,431 males and 2,121 females with new cases of cancer.  Cancer-related deaths in 2020 show that 1, 096 males died of the disease last year with 1,507 females.  The five most common cancers in Liberia are Cervix Uteri, Breast Cancer, Liver, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Prostrate.

The economic impact of cancer is significant and increasing. The total annual economic cost of cancer in 2010 was estimated at approximately US$ 1.16 trillion.

The release also indicated about one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, and alcohol use, and tobacco use is recorded as the most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths.

“Cancer-causing infections, such as hepatitis and human papilloma virus (HPV), are responsible for up to 25% of cancer cases in low and middle-income countries,” the WHO noted in the release.

Other risk factors for some cancers as identified by the WHO are environmental, such as air pollution (both indoor and outdoor) and water pollution, and they are responsible for such cancers as lung, bladder and colorectal cancers.  

Skin cancer on the other hand, WHO said is primarily the result of exposure to sun rays.

The WHO further warned that the number of new cases is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades, with the number of new cases worldwide in 2040 expected to be 47% higher than in 2020. 

On the issue of treatment, the WHO said before the COVID-19 pandemic more than 90% of high-income countries reported that treatment services were available compared to less than 30% of low-income countries.

 “A WHO survey conducted in 2020 indicated that treatment for cancer had been disrupted in more than 40% of countries surveyed,” said the release, adding, “People living with NCDs, including cancer, are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 related illness and death.”

With the challenge posed by Cancer, there is a need for the world to seek remedy to either prevent the disease or treat existing cases that are overwhelming the world, and one of those approaches is vaccines.  Another approach identified by the WHO is providing surgical training for cancer.

“To get on the path to eliminate cervical cancer, we must achieve three targets by 2030: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age; 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45; and 90% of women identified with cervical cancer treated,” said the WHO.

The world health body noted that achieving the 90-70-90 targets would see an incidence rate decline of more than 70% by 2050 and some 4.5 million cervical cancer deaths averted.


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