Study shows 44% of global cancer deaths are preventable

A recent study published in The Lancet has estimated the global cancer burden triggered by behavioral, environmental, occupational, and metabolic risk factors. The study findings reveal that behavioral risk factors are major contributors to the global cancer burden in 2019. In addition, the largest induction in metabolic risk factors has been observed between 2010 and 2019.

Study: The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010–19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. 2022. Image Credit: Nutnutchar NAV / Shutterstock.com

Study: The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010–19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. 2022. Image Credit: Nutnutchar NAV / Shutterstock.com

Background

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Although many cancers are genetically triggered and cannot be prevented, some cancers are caused by aberrant exposure to known risk factors, which are otherwise known as risk-attributable cancers. Restricting exposure to these modifiable risk factors can lead to a reduction in cancer-related deaths and disability-adjusted life-year rates worldwide.

The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) is a large-scale study to estimate the cancer burden caused by a broad set of modifiable risk factors. This study estimates the cancer burden over time for all countries across the globe, for all age groups, and for both males and females.     

In the current study, scientists analyze the 2019 findings of the GBD study to understand the contributions of modifiable risk factors to the global cancer burden, as well as inform cancer control efforts at regional, national, and global levels.

Study design

GBD 2019 broadly includes three types of risk factors, behavioral, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risk factors. A total of 23 cancer types and 34 risk factors are included in the GBD 2019.

The GBD 2019 comparative risk assessment framework was utilized to estimate the fraction of the cancer burden caused by each risk factor. A total of 82 cancer risk-outcome pairs were included in the analysis.

Overall, the study estimated risk-attributable cancer-related deaths and disability-adjusted life-years in 2019. Furthermore, the temporal trends of these measures were described between 2010 and 2019.

Important observations

The total number of cancer deaths caused by all risk factors in 2019 globally was 4.4 million, which accounted for 44.4% of all cancer deaths. The total number of cancer disability-adjusted life years caused by all risk factors in 2019 globally was 105 million, which accounted for 42% of all cancer disability-adjusted life years.

Regarding cancer disability-adjusted life-years, tobacco use is the leading behavioral risk factor in males in 2019, followed by alcohol use, dietary risks, and air pollution. In females, tobacco use was also the leading risk factor associated with cancer disability-adjusted life-years, which was followed by unsafe sex, dietary risks, overweight/obesity, and diabetes.

The risk factors associated with cancer deaths worldwide in 2019 were similar to those associated with cancer disability-adjusted life-years.

In both males and females, tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancers were the leading cancers in terms of risk-attributable global cancer mortality in 2019. Other leading cancer types contributing to the global risk-attributable mortality were colon, rectal, esophageal, and stomach cancers in males, as well as cervical, colon, rectal, and breast cancers in females.

A relatively higher fraction of risk-attributable cancer death was observed in males as compared to that in females. By excluding gender-specific cancers, smaller male-to-female ratios for risk-attributable cancer deaths were observed in countries with a higher socio-demographic index (SDI), which is a composite index per capita income, educational attainment, and total fertility rate in a country.

The highest number of risk-attributable cancer deaths was observed in high SDI countries in 2019. These measures remained similar when the analysis considered risks attributable to cancer disability-adjusted life-years.

A variation in age-specific risk-attributable cancer deaths and disability-adjusted life-years was observed across the globe, with high-income countries throughout North America and Central, Western, and Eastern Europe showing higher measures. Increased rates of these measures were also observed in east and southeast Asia, southern Latin America, and southern Africa.

About 20% and 16% induction in global rates of risk-attributable cancer deaths and disability-adjusted life-years, respectively, were observed between 2010 and 2019. In contrast, about 6% and 7% reduction in global age-specific rates of risk-attributable cancer deaths and disability-adjusted life-years, respectively, were observed between 2010 and 2019.

Metabolic risk factors were identified as leading contributors to cancer deaths and disability-adjusted life years between 2010 and 2019. This was followed by behavioral, environmental, and occupational risk factors.

Conclusions

Overall, the current study identifies behavioral risk factors as major contributors to the global cancer burden in 2019. However, metabolic risk factors exhibit the highest percentage increase between 2010 and 2019.

Journal reference:
  • GBD 2019 Cancer Risk Factors Collaborators. (2022). The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010–19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. 2022. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/SD0140-6736(22)01438-6.  
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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