Millions of Healthy Years of Life Lost to Cancer Worldwide

MONDAY Oct. 15, 2012 -- Nearly 170 million years of healthy life were lost worldwide due to cancer in 2008, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed cancer registries from around the world and used a measure called disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) to assess not only the impact of fatal cancer, but also the effects of disabilities among cancer survivors, such as breast loss due to breast cancer or infertility due to cervical cancer.

Along with finding that 169.3 million years of healthy life were lost due to cancer in 2008, the researchers also determined that men in eastern Europe had the largest cancer burden worldwide (3,146 age-adjusted DALYs lost per 100,000 men). Among women, the highest burden was in sub-Saharan Africa (2,749 age-adjusted DALYs lost per 100,000 women).

Colorectal, lung, breast and prostate cancers were the main contributors to total DALYs in most areas, accounting for 18 percent to 50 percent of total cancer burden. Infection-related cancers such as liver, stomach and cervical cancers accounted for a larger part of overall DALYs in eastern Asia (27 percent of all cancers) and in sub-Saharan Africa (25 percent of all cancers) than in other regions.

In addition, the study revealed that improved access to high-quality treatment has not improved survival for a number of common cancers associated with poor outcomes, especially lung, stomach, liver and pancreatic cancers. This points to the crucial role that prevention needs to play if the worldwide cancer burden is to be reduced, said Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, and colleagues.

The researchers also found higher average levels of premature death due to cancer in lower-income countries and higher average levels of cancer-related disability and impairment in higher-income countries.

The study was published online Oct. 15 in the journal The Lancet.

"Our findings illustrate quite starkly how cancer is already a barrier to sustainable development in many of the poorest countries across the world and this will only be exacerbated in the coming years if cancer control is neglected," study co-author Dr. Freddy Bay, deputy head of IARC's Section of Cancer Information, said in a journal news release.

Tackling the growing cancer burden in low- and middle-income countries will require a major coordinated effort by many public and private sector partners, "including national and international public health agencies, health industries, philanthropic and government donors, and local and regional policymakers," Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, of the American Cancer Society, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about cancer.

Posted: October 2012


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