Cancer costs 170 million years of human life in a year

In collaboration with the Press Association

Nearly 170 million years of healthy life were lost around the world because of cancer in 2008, according to an international study.

The research is the first to look in detail at the global impact of cancer by measuring the number of healthy years of life lost by patients.

Researchers used a measure known as disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). This looks at both years of life lost because of premature deaths from cancer and years lived with a cancer-related disability or impairment.

The DALY measure is better at accounting for the affects of cancer at younger ages - when people are more likely to be working, raising children and supporting other family members - than other commonly used measures such as deaths rates.

The researchers analysed data from worldwide cancer registries to estimate that 169.3 million years of healthy human life were lost globally due to cancer in 2008.

The team, led by Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, published their findings in the journal The Lancet.

Premature deaths from cancer were greatest in lower-income, developing countries. Cancer-related disability was highest in developed countries, where people tend to live longer with their disease.

Across different regions, the most common cancers - bowel, lung, breast and prostate cancers - accounted for between 18 to 50 per cent of healthy years lost to cancer.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and information, said: "This study confirms that many more years of life are lost to cancer in developing countries than in more developed countries, and highlights the pressing need to improve prevention, early detection and treatment programmes in these parts of the world. And worryingly, far too many years of healthy life are lost to cancer worldwide, not just because of deaths from the disease, but because of the long-term physical side effects of cancer and some treatments.

"There are also lessons for more developed countries like the UK. While we have a lot to celebrate - not least the doubling in overall survival over the past 40 years in the UK - survival rates are still unacceptably low for harder-to-treat cancers such as lung, stomach, liver and pancreatic cancers. We need to re-double our efforts to improve treatments, but also to encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices like not smoking and keeping a healthy body weight."

Copyright Press Association 2012


  • Soerjomataram, I., Lortet-Tieulent, J., Parkin, D.M., Ferlay, J., Mathers, C., Forman, D. & Bray, F. (2012). Global burden of cancer in 2008: a systematic analysis of disability-adjusted life-years in 12 world regions, The Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60919-2