The information here is provided by courtesy of the Network's short online course - "An Introduction to Global Health". 






  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six deaths, in 2018. (Figure 1) 
  • As so many cancers can be prevented by relatively low cost measures, the main approach to cancers, particularly for low- and middle-income countries will need to be on prevention.
  • As the same measures will prevent deaths from cardiovascular diseases, there is more than double benefit from this approach. 
  • If this does not happen, then future budgets will be overwhelmed by demand from the long term effects of non-communicable diseases. 


Figure 1





 Around 70% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (Map 1) 


Map 1




Worldwide, the most common causes of cancer death are cancers of:


  • Lung (1.76 million deaths)
  • Colorectal (862 000 deaths)
  • Stomach (783 000 deaths)
  • Liver (782 000 deaths) 
  • Breast (627 000 deaths)


The most common types of cancer in men and women are 


  • Men        : Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer.
  • Women : Breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer.


Risk Factors


Around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioural and dietary risks:


  • high body mass index
  • low fruit and vegetable intake
  • lack of physical activity
  • tobacco use
  • alcohol use


Tobacco : Of these, tobacco is the most important risk factor and is responsible for around 22% of cancer deaths.

(To read more on tobacco, follow this link.)


Infections that cause cancer : Infections like  hepatitis and human papilloma virus (HPV), are responsible for up to 25% of cancer cases in low- and middle-income countries.




Behaviour and Diet: Between 30% and 50% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies. The cancer burden can also be reduced through early detection of cancer and management of patients who develop cancer. Prevention also offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.


Immunisation  : For some specific diseases, immunisation is possible. Immunisation against human papilloma virus will prevent cervical cancer in future generations of women. Immunisation against hepatitis B will prevent many liver cancers. (See below for more information about cervical and liver cancers.)


Screening : Screening programmes for some specific diseases help to achieve early diagnosis when treatment can be curative. Examples include screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer. 


Treatment : Great strides have been taken in the treatment of cancers e.g. surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and best results are usually achieved using a multidisciplinary approach. 


Palliative Care : End of life care focuses on the quality of life of the patient and families. 







Cancers image