Of the more than 20 million new cancer cases diagnosed globally in 2022, nearly half occurred in Asia—where an even higher majority of the 9.7 million deaths were also reported, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer and American Cancer Society’s April 2024 estimates. And although “the cancer mortality burden in the African and Asian regions is disproportionately greater than the corresponding incidence burden,” the authors wrote, “Europe [also] has a disproportionately higher cancer incidence and mortality burden, given that the continent has one-fifth of the global cancer cases and cancer deaths yet less than 10% of the global population.”

Using data from the Global Cancer Observatory, the investigators identified national estimates from the best sources of cancer incidence and mortality data available for each country; they emphasized short-term predictions and modeled mortality-to-incidence ratios where applicable. The analysis involved patients of all ages, all cancer types, and 36 individual cancer types. The published report covers the incidence and mortality rates for the 10 leading cancer types, which collectively comprise about two-thirds of the global cancer burden.  

Globally, lung cancer is the leading cancer diagnosis (12.4%), followed by female breast (11.6%), colorectal (9.6%), prostate (7.3%), and stomach (4.9%) cancers. Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death (18.7%), followed by colorectal (9.3%), liver (7.8%), female breast (6.9%), and stomach (6.8%) cancers. In patients assigned female at birth, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death, followed by lung and colorectal cancer for both cancer cases and deaths. Alternatively, lung cancer cases and deaths are most frequent in patients assigned male at birth, followed by prostate and colorectal cancer cases and liver and colorectal cancer deaths.

Overall, cancer incidence is higher in high-resource countries, which the investigators attributed to higher life expectancy and access to screening and diagnostic testing. However, cancer mortality rates are disproportionately high in countries with fewer resources, despite lower incidence rates. “For example, the breast cancer mortality rate is over 35 per 100,000 women in Fiji and Jamaica, approximately three times higher than the rate in the United States, despite a 26% to 38% lower incidence rate,” they wrote.

Additionally, the investigators found that as lower-resource countries advance economically, they experience spikes in lung, colorectal, and breast cancer incidence because of the economically corresponding increases in risk factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, alcohol use, obesity and physical inactivity, and lower fertility. Cervical cancer represents the starkest disparity: Although human papillomavirus vaccination renders it nearly entirely preventable, it is the leading cause of cancer death in individuals with a cervix in 37 countries, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. Individuals in Eswatini, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have the highest cervical cancer incidence rates globally, ranging from 65–96 per 100,000, which is 10–16 times higher than the U.S. rate (6 per 100,000). The investigators said that the disparity is “largely due to inequitable implementation of screening services. The prevalence of lifetime cervical cancer screening is nearly 100% in Sweden and the Netherlands versus 4% in Ethiopia.”

Notably for oncology advocates, more than half of the global cancer deaths may be preventable. “For example, the elimination of smoking could prevent about 1 in 4 deaths from cancer and approximately 2.6 million cancer deaths annually,” the investigators wrote. In other words, to achieve the Cancer Moonshot’s goal to prevent more than 4 million cancer deaths by 2047 and end cancer as we know it, “prevention offers the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy for cancer control.”

Learn more about ONS and its members’ involvement in the Cancer Moonshot in ONS Voice. Then, use your role as a public health information advocate to spread the message of cancer prevention among your patients, local community, and beyond. Finally, find out how you can get involved in ONS’s global cancer initiatives or contact your legislators about funding and policies for cancer prevention and equity.