Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Cancer mortality and morbidity

Situation and trends

Cancer is a leading cause of death and accounted for 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) in 2008.

Lung, breast, colorectal, stomach, and prostate cancers cause the majority of cancer deaths. Important risk factors for cancer include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.

The WHO Regions for Europe and the Americas had the highest incidence of all types of cancer combined for both sexes. Countries in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region had the lowest incidence rates. Except in AFRO and SEARO, men have higher rates for all types of cancer combined than women. Lung cancer rates among both sexes combined were highest in the WHO Western Pacific Region, followed by Europe and the Americas. They were lowest in Africa. Women in the WHO African Region had the highest incidence of cancer of the cervix uteri, followed by the WHO South East Asia Region. Women in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region had the lowest cervical cancer incidence. For breast cancer, women in the WHO European Region had the highest rates followed by the Americas. These rates were more than double those of the other WHO regions. Men in the WHO Americas Region had the highest rates of prostate cancer, followed by the WHO Europe Region. The lowest rate of prostate cancer was in the WHO South East Asia Region. Among the WHO Regions, the countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region had by far the highest incidence of stomach cancer and liver cancer. The lowest incidence of stomach cancer was in Africa. Men in the WHO Western Pacific Region had five times the rate of liver cancer of men in all other regions, except for Africa, where it was more than double the rate. Women in the WHO Western Pacific Region also had a considerably higher liver cancer incidence rate than women in other WHO regions. The WHO European Region had the highest incidence of colorectal cancer followed by the WHO Americas Region. The WHO African Region had the lowest incidence.

According to the World Bank income groups for countries, the cancer rates for all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) rose with increasing levels of country income. High income countries had more than double the rate of all cancers combined of low income countries. Except in low income countries, men have considerably higher rates of all types of cancer combined than women. This exception is probably explained by the high rates of cervical cancer among women in Africa. High income countries had more than double the lung cancer incidence rates those in low income countries. Across all the income groups, men’s lung cancer incidence rates were more than double those of women, and in upper middle income countries the men’s lung cancer incidence rates were four times higher. High income countries had approximately ten times the rate of prostate cancer incidence of the lower middle income countries. For breast cancer, incidence rates rose rapidly with level of country income. High income countries had more than three times the rate of low income countries. Similarly, colorectal cancer incidence rates also rose by level of country income. High income countries had considerably higher colorectal cancer incidence rates than any other income group. This was nearly five times higher than the rate in low income countries. Conversely, high income countries had considerably lower cervical cancer incidence rates than low and middle income countries. And for liver cancer, low and lower middle income countries also had the highest rates.

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