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Lung Cancer Behind Projected 77% Jump in Cancer Cases by 2050

Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute

Even as people around the globe marked World Health Day recently, a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) painted a grim picture of just how pervasive cancer will become in the next few decades.


Using global data on cancer incidence and death from the Global Cancer Observatory, a World Health Organization (WHO) database, the ACS estimates that the number of people with cancer could rise by 77 percent by 2050. That increase will be driven primarily by population growth – the current global population of roughly 8 billion people is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 – as well as an aging population.


The report, published recently in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, says that, including nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs), there were close to 20 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2022, the most recent year for which data was available. During that same period, there were 9.7 million deaths globally from cancer, including NMSCs. By 2050, the number of new cancer cases diagnosed is expected to reach 35 million.


Dramatic increases in cancer for developing countries

Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., MBA, FASCO, chief of medical oncology, chief scientific officer, deputy director and Fernandez Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Research at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute, says the report is sadly unsurprising.


“We know that people in developing countries around the world are now experiencing some of the same health issues as do people here in the United States and in other Western societies,” says Dr. Ahluwalia. “This report only confirms our fears that these developing countries, which are facing their own epidemics of obesity as well as increasing problems with tobacco use and air pollution, will experience a dramatic increase in cancer diagnoses in the years to come.”


Preferred Ahluwalia Headshot

Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., MBA, FASCO, chief of medical oncology, chief scientific officer, deputy director and Fernandez Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Research at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute


Lung cancer was the most frequently diagnosed cancer in 2022, according to the ACS report, responsible for almost 2.5 million new cases, or more than 12 percent of all cancers globally. The majority of patients diagnosed with lung cancer are diagnosed in stage 4, says Dr. Ahluwalia. “At that point, the five-year survival rate is only around 20 percent in developed countries like the U.S. and even lower in developing countries.


Tobacco, as always, is a culprit. “Tobacco remains the principal cause of lung cancer and the disease can largely be prevented through effective tobacco control policies and regulations,” the ACS states. “Elimination of tobacco use alone could prevent one in four cancer deaths or approximately 2.6 million cancer deaths annually.”


Some countries, however – notably China and India – have seen dramatic increases in lung cancer, even in people who are non-smokers. Dr. Ahluwalia says that increasing air pollution in those countries is to blame.


“It is a major challenge for them. China and India are home to billions of people and they have some of the world’s worst air quality and very little in the way of environmental regulations and enforcement.”


The Top Five Types of Cancer in the U.S.

The ACS report notes that the top five cancer types in both men and women accounted for nearly half (45.4 percent) of newly diagnosed cancer cases and cancer deaths last year:


• Lung cancer (12%)

• Breast cancer (11.6%)

• Colorectal cancer (9.6%)

• Prostate cancer (7.3%)

• Stomach (4.9%)


Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths, notes Dr. Ahluwalia. “Although it accounts for 12 percent of all cancer diagnoses, it is responsible for nearly 19 percent of all cancer deaths,” he says. “What that means, basically, is that a person diagnosed with lung cancer is much more likely to die from the disease than a person diagnosed with some other type of cancer.”


Expanding access to lung cancer screenings

Another factor behind the rising number of lung cancer cases worldwide is that lung cancer screening rates remain very low. The new report details how many low-income countries have high cancer death rates despite low cancer incidence, “largely due to a lack of access to screening tools to spot the disease early and advanced treatment services.”


That is true even in developed countries such as the U.S., Dr. Ahluwalia says, where lung cancer screening rates are only 4.5 percent nationally. “Here in Florida they’re less than 3 percent and among Hispanic residents, that number falls to 2 percent.”


To increase lung cancer screenings in South Florida, Dr. Ahluwalia says that Miami Cancer Institute has partnered with LUNGevity, a national online forum for lung cancer patients, caregivers, survivors and families.


“We’re working with LUNGevity to launch culturally tailored screening programs such as the one we already have underway to boost lung cancer screenings among Hispanics in the region,” Dr. Ahluwalia says. “It’s the first program of its kind in South Florida. Our goal is to increase the number of screenings so that we can catch more lung cancer in its early stages – at least stage 1 and 2 – when it still tends to be curable.”


Improving the quality of lung cancer screenings

Dr. Ahluwalia says that in addition to expanding access to lung cancer screenings – especially among at-risk populations – Miami Cancer Institute is “also improving how we screen” by leveraging the latest science and technology.


“For years, we’ve been using x-rays, CAT scans and other imaging technologies to screen for lung cancer,” Dr. Ahluwalia explains. “Now we can increase the sensitivity and the specificity of these measures by testing for blood-based biomarkers, which determine the presence of particular mutations or of a particular protein.”


Lung cancer screenings are recommended for those 50-80 years old who either are current smokers or have a heavy smoking history. Click here for more information on cancer screenings available at Miami Cancer Institute.

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