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New cancer cases to increase 77% by 2050, WHO estimates

WHO releases broad study for World Cancer Day
WHO releases broad study for World Cancer Day 01:33

The World Health Organization predicts we will see more than 35 million new cancer cases by 2050, a 77% increase from the estimated 20 million cases in 2022.

The data comes from a report the organization's cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, released ahead of World Cancer Day, which is observed on Sunday, Feb. 4. 

In a survey looking at 115 countries, the WHO also found a majority of nations don't spend enough on cancer care and treatment. 

"This is not the time to turn away. It's the time to double down and make those investments in cancer prevention and control," said Dr. Andre IIbawi, technical lead on cancer for the WHO.

In 2022, there were nearly 10 million deaths from cancer worldwide, according to WHO. About 1 in 5 people will develop cancer in their lifetime, and around 1 in 9 men and 1 in 12 women will die from the disease.

Looking at the reasons behind the predicted global cancer increase, the WHO points to several factors, including:

  • Population aging and growth
  • Changes to people's exposure to risk factors, with air pollution a key driver of environmental risk factors
  • Tobacco and alcohol use 
  • Obesity

Tobacco use is a large contributor to lung cancer, which the IARC notes is now the most commonly occurring cancer worldwide.

"One of the main issues is tobacco use. (In) Asian countries, there's a high high rate of tobacco use, which is contributing of course to mortality," oncology hospitalist Dr. Tim Tiutan told CBS News.

Female breast cancer ranked second most common, followed by colorectal cancer, prostate and stomach cancer.

"When we think about the major risk factors: tobacco use, alcohol and obesity — that's worldwide," Tiutan says. "But especially in Western countries, ultra-processed foods, processed meats — those are the... risk factors that are contributing to higher cancer rates — colorectal cancer, especially."

WHO reveals most countries don't adequately fund cancer services 04:49

What disparities exist with access to cancer care? 

In the study, only 39% of the countries the WHO surveyed provided coverage for basics in cancer management in their health benefits packages. Only 28% of the countries provided coverage for palliative medicine services, which is a specialty that focuses on symptom burden and management, for those with serious illnesses.

"What we're finding is that people who live in less developed countries are not only dying more from cancer, but they're also getting less adequate access to symptom management," Tiutan said, adding detection is also lower for those who live in these countries. "They are finding less, new cases being diagnosed and higher mortality rates in these countries as well... It comes down to access to high quality care."

"I just went into shock then into tears"

Alexia Da Silva has personally felt the painful impact of cancer and shares her battle with the disease to give others hope.

"I never cried from joy before cancer. When there is like that raw joy, I cry in a heartbeat and those moments that make me feel invincible and on top of the word," Da Silva, a California native living in London, told CBS News. "I collect those like its oxygen so when I have bad days, frustrated days, hopelessness, loneliness, I collect those like a rolodex in my head and that's what keeps me going."

The 42-year-old was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2016. "I just went into shock then into tears, I just couldn't believe it," she says.

Da Silva also lost her mother, uncle and grandmother to cancer. 

"They're with me in my heart all of the time. I've out survived and so I feel their spirit in me," she says, adding she wants to share that spirit of strength with others. "We're all in this together, you know. We have secret bond, something that connects all of us."

After two breast surgeries, six cycles of chemotherapy and 21 cycles of radiation, her boyfriend surprised her with a trip to Morocco. As they were in the desert at sunset with a bottle of champagne, she remembers feeling on top of the world. 

"I leapt out of the motorcycle, and I was like, this is how you do cancer!" she laughs.

Da Silva is now in remission and cherishing every moment.

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