Report reveals global breast and cervical cancer trends

In collaboration with the Press Association

There has been an increase in the number of new breast cancer cases diagnosed worldwide, while the burden of cervical cancer in the developing world has also increased, a report has revealed.

According to estimates published in The Lancet, there were 1.6 million global cases of breast cancer in 2010, compared with 640,000 in 1980. And whilst in most parts of the world cervical cancer incidence and deaths are decreasing, there were 454,000 cases of cervical cancer in 2010, compared with 378,000 in 1980.

The report also says that the number of global deaths from breast cancer has been growing at a slower rate than cases, rising from 250,000 in 1980 to 425,000 in 2010. This could be down to advances in developing countries in early detection and treatment of the disease.

Over the same period of 30 years, there has been a global drop in the number of cervical cancer deaths. But the report revealed that the disease still killed 200,000 women in 2010.

It also highlighted marked variation in cervical cancer cases and deaths between developed countries, where screening programmes are often available, and developing countries, where they are not.

Newly diagnosed cases and deaths from cervical cancer increased during 1980-2010 in south and east Asia, Latin America and Africa. But they decreased substantially in developed countries, particularly in places where screening programmes were in place.

The figures were calculated using data collected and modelled from more than 300 cancer registries and cause-of-death offices to generate annual age-specific assessments of breast and cervical cancer in 187 countries for the 30 years to 2010.

The report also showed that breast and cervical cancer cases and deaths were rising among women of reproductive age in developing countries, leading the authors to say that these diseases "are substantial problems of a similar importance to major global priorities such as maternal mortality".

The authors also said: "The complexity of the pattern for breast cancer and to a lesser extent for cervical cancer draws attention to the importance of building better surveillance systems. It also draws attention to the importance of the development of national control strategies for both cancers that show local epidemiological patterns and trends.

"In view of the potential for effective health system responses... More policy attention is needed to strengthen established health-system responses to reduce breast and cervical cancer, especially in developing countries."

Hazel Nunn, head of health evidence and information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an important reminder that more and more women across the world, in both rich and poor countries, are developing breast cancer, and that cervical cancer rates are rising rapidly in the developing world. Differences in death rates from these cancers show that all too often developing countries aren't reaping the benefits of the progress that's being made in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

"We must ensure that more resources are directed towards improving cancer outcomes across the world, not just in the richest countries. Ensuring girls in the developing world have access to HPV vaccination - to protect them against the virus which causes cervical cancer - will be one crucial step in addressing rising cervical cancer rates."

Copyright Press Association 2011