Cancer is on the rise around the world and poses a particular threat in many low- and middle-income countries. Death tolls globally far exceed those from such devastating infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
According to recent reports from international health agencies, global mortality from those three diseases has, in fact, been cut substantially — by nearly half in the case of malaria — over the past decade.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization at the United Nations, reported an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred worldwide last year, up from 12.7 million and 7.6 million respectively in 2015.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers were lung, breast and colorectal cancers.
Less-developed regions of the world accounted for more than half of all new cancer cases and almost two-thirds of all cancer deaths. The rising toll was largely connected to unhealthy eating habits adopted from industrialized nations and on the lack of access to screening and clinical services that can save lives.
The findings underscore the importance of strengthening the health care systems of low-income countries that are battling a host of disease problems.
The American Cancer Society issued a report last month that focused on Africa as a likely future epicenter of a tobacco epidemic.
Although smoking rates are quite low in most African countries, the report projected that they will rise substantially as the population lives longer, economic growth produces more income to buy tobacco products and smoking among African boys and girls, which is rising, extends into their adult years.
If nothing is done to reduce smoking, the report estimates that adult smokers in Africa will soar to 572 million by 2100, up from 77 million today. That makes it imperative that international trade agreements uphold the ability of individual countries to regulate the sale and marketing of tobacco products within their borders.
The industry argues that this would restrict free trade. It is a frivolous argument, little more than an effort by tobacco companies to bully their way into emerging markets. From a health perspective, it is also dangerously irresponsible.