The highest rates of new cancer diagnosis are found in wealthy, Western nations. Developed nations have greater medical advances and high incomes that contribute to longer lifespans, which increases the likelihood of cancer. In 24 of the 25 countries with the highest incidence of cancer, the gross national income per capita is greater than the global average income per capita of $15,071.
As a body ages, tissue and organ cells become more susceptible to cancer-causing mutations. Additionally, older individuals have had greater exposure to cancer-causing factors such as sunlight, radiation, air pollution, and other substances over their lifetimes. According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the median age for a cancer diagnosis in the United States is 66 years.
In all of the 25 countries with the highest incidence of new cancer cases, the share of the population that is 65 and older is greater than the 8.7% global average. Additionally, the average life expectancy at birth in all 25 countries is greater than the 72-year global average.
While many of the wealthier, developed nations have the highest rates of cancer incidence, cancer patients in the countries are far less likely to die from the disease than in poorer, developing countries. Wealthier nations have a higher quality of medical care, greater access to health care, and higher survival rates overall. In 22 of the 24 countries with the highest cancer prevalence and for which data is available, the mortality rate from cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease for 30 to 70 year olds is below the 18.8% global figure.
According to research published in October 2017 by the University of Adelaide, the low cancer mortality rates in wealthy Western nations may also partially contribute to the high rates of cancer incidence. In countries with low cancer mortality rates, cancer survivors are more likely to reproduce and pass cancer genes and mutations to the next generation.
The high incidence of cancer in high-income countries may be also due to the high prevalence of lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and alcohol intake. In Serbia, for example, a country with one of the lower GNI per capitas and life expectancies of the 25 countries on this list, 39.0% of adults smoke, nearly twice the 19.9% global figure and one of the highest smoking rates of any country, according to data from the World Health Organization. The high prevalence of smoking in Serbia — as well as other high smoking rate Eastern European nations such as Latvia and Croatia — may account for an outsized share of cancer cases in the country.
The high rate of cancer diagnosis in wealthier countries may also be attributable to the more advanced and easily accessible detection and diagnosis methods in the developed world. While only 26% of low-income countries report having pathology services available in the public sector, more than 90% of high-income countries report having treatment services available. As a result, cancer is more likely to be undiagnosed, untreated, and underreported, further contributing to the disparity in cancer diagnosis between rich and poor nations.
To determine the countries with the highest incidence of new cancer cases, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the estimated age-adjusted new cancer diagnosis rates for 185 countries with data from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Age-adjusted rates for all cancers are for both sexes and are for 2018. Data on GNI per capita, health expenditure per capita, and life expectancy are from the World Bank and are for the most recent year available for that country. Data on adult smoking rate for the population 15-years and older is from the World Health Organization. All data is for the most recent period available.