Cancer deaths in UK set to rise by more than 50% by 2050, experts warn

Top medic says UK governments’ ‘failure’ to address key cancer risk factors has ‘widened health inequalities’

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Thursday 01 February 2024 17:07 GMT
Related video: Former breast cancer surgeon urges women to check for disease

Deaths from cancer in the UK are set to rise by more than 50 per cent in the next 26 years, stark new estimates suggest.

Experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have found there were 454,954 new cases of cancer in the UK in 2022 and warned this is expected to rise to 624,582 by 2050.

In 2022, 181,807 people died in Britain from cancer, but researchers warned this is expected to rise to 279,004 by 2050 – a 53 per cent increase.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in UK women (PA Wire)

The estimates suggest the rising rates of cancer will be driven by the UK’s growing and ageing population. However, researchers have also called for new policies to tackle levels of smoking, unhealthy diets, obesity and alcohol to help lower the expected surge in cases.

The study examined cancer data from 115 different countries and estimated global cases would rise by 77 per cent, from 20 million in 2022 to 35 million in 2050.

The organisations estimate that cancer deaths around the world will almost double from 9.7 million to 18.5 million in that time.

Experts from the IARC said the global population is expected to rise to almost 10 billion from 8 billion in the next 26 years which will have a large impact on the number of new cases.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, director of research, policy and innovation at the World Cancer Research Fund, said the new estimates “show the increased burden that cancer will have in the years to come”.

“UK governments’ failure to prioritise prevention and address key cancer risk factors like smoking, unhealthy diets, obesity, alcohol and physical inactivity has in part widened health inequalities,” she added.

Dr Mitrou said around 40 per cent of cancer cases can be prevented so now is the time to “turn the tide” and implement policies to help people live healthier lives and prioritise a national cancer plan.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in UK women, with prostate cancer the most commonly diagnosed among men, the organisations said. Lung and bowel cancer are the other cancers most likely to be diagnosed among both men and women.

The warning on Thursday from the WHO and the IARC comes as the NHS battles worsening waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The latest figures published by the NHS in January show that 6,817 people were waiting more than two months for their first cancer appointment following an urgent referral – up from 1,704 patients in 2015.

Last year The Independent revealed a stark warning from cancer doctors that “massive” shortages of specialist doctors and nurses have triggered dangerous delays in treatment for thousands of women.

Responding to the report, Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “This report highlights the international growth in cancer cases and some of the stark health inequalities that affect people in countries across the world, including here in the UK.

“Everyone deserves access to the best healthcare and Cancer Research UK is committed to supporting global measures to prevent cancer such as tobacco control and HPV vaccination.”

Dr Freddie Bray, head of the cancer surveillance branch at the IARC, added: “We expect the global population of the world to rise from 8 billion in 2022 to almost 10 billion by 2050 and this will have a large impact on the number of new cancer cases.”

The IARC and WHO said countries should properly prepare for the rise in cases and deaths.

Dr Bray added: “The impact of this increase will not be felt evenly across countries of different HDI [Human Development Index] levels. Those who have the fewest resources to manage their cancer burdens will bear the brunt of the global cancer burden.”

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