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The incidence of cancer rises dramatically with age, most likely due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age. The overall risk accumulation is combined with the tendency for cellular repair mechanisms to be less effective as a person grows older.

Cancer is a disease which occurs when changes in a group of normal cells within the body lead to uncontrolled, abnormal growth forming a lump called a tumour; this is true of all cancers except leukaemia (cancer of the blood). If left untreated, tumours can grow and spread into the surrounding normal tissue, or to other parts of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic systems, and can affect the digestive, nervous and circulatory systems or release hormones that may affect body function.

Tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and air pollution are risk factors for cancer (and other noncommunicable diseases).

  • Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide.

  • 10 million people die from cancer every year.

  • More than 40% of cancer-related death could be preventable as they are linked to modifiable risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, poor diet and physical inactivity.

  • Almost at least one third of all deaths related to cancer could be prevented through routine screening, and early detection and treatment.

  • 70% of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries.

  • Millions of lives could be saved each year by implementing resource appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment.

The cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems. Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment. In countries where health systems are strong, survival rates of many types of cancers are improving thanks to accessible early detection, quality treatment and survivorship care.

EU policy on cancer
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, presented in February 2021, is the EU’s response to growing challenges and developments in cancer control and represents a political commitment to leave no stone unturned in the fight against cancer. Built around ten flagship initiatives, and several supporting actions, it forms part of the Commission’s proposals for a strong European Health Union with a view to ensuring a more secure, better-prepared and more resilient EU.

Useful links:
WHO Homepage
Union for International Cancer Control
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) publications