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Cancer in Latin America: Main Cause of Premature Death

Cancer in Latin America claims the lives of nearly 700,000 people annually. Prostate, breast, colorectal, lung and stomach are the most common. In LatinAmerican Post we make a sweep with the main statistics that cancer leaves in the continent .

Women holding cancer sign ties

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LatinAmerican Post | Christopher Ramírez

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Leer en español: Cáncer en América Latina: principal causa de muerte prematura

According to a study published by the British medical journal The Lancet, cancer is considered as "one of the main causes of illness and death in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)", as it happens in most of the world. The publication was based on 2020 cut-off reports developed by international and regional entities such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

In the case of the first institution, data extracted from its reports were used, which talk about "patterns of mortality and incidence of cancer at the national and regional level" in 2020, while the references to ECLAC are intended show the ways in which this public health situation is directly related to "the economic, sociodemographic and environmental situation of the region".

In this regard, according to ECLAC, the socioeconomic factors of Latin America and the Caribbean LAC have made cancer the main cause of premature death in almost half of the 32 countries that make up the region; and the second, in cases of general deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Cancer numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean

According to information provided by The Lancet magazine, by 2020, estimates of new cancer cases in LAC were almost 1.5 million people, while at least 700,000 deaths from this disease were recorded annually. Likewise, the report ensures that of the total cases of new cancer patients on the planet, 7.6% are found in the region.

On the other hand, and using the age-standardized incidence and mortality rates (ASR), it was possible to establish precisely how often this disease occurs and the cases that end in death, taking into account a value for every 100 thousand people.

In that order of ideas, The Lancet assures that South America is the subcontinent with "the highest incidence rates for all cancers and both sexes combined", while Central America presented a much lower incidence. In terms of countries, Uruguay takes first place with an index of 269.3 people per 100,000.

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What types of cancer are the most common?

To give a practical and real approach to what cancer is in LAC, The Lancet took the data offered by PAHO, in which five types of cancer were ranked as the most frequent among the population: prostate, breast, colorectal, lung and stomach. In fact, these five cancers represented 49.6% of the total cases in South America; 47.4% in Central America and 55.5% in the Caribbean.

In the case of South America and the Caribbean, prostate cancer was the one with the highest incidence, with a total of 15% in relation to all cancers in both subzones. On the other hand, the breast presented in 14%, the colorectal in 9%, the lung in 7% and the stomach in 5%.

In the case of Central America, lung cancer left the top 5 with the highest incidence, to be replaced by cervical cancer, as did liver cancer in terms of mortality.

“Among men, prostate cancer was the most frequently diagnosed cancer in all countries and the leading cause of cancer death in 21 countries. Breast cancer was the most common incident cancer in women in all countries except Bolivia,” the report added.

In this sense, PAHO showed much more general information on the Americas , which they discriminated by percentages of incidence, both in men and women:

  • In the case of men, in addition to prostate cancer, which had an incidence of 21.7% in the entire region, there are also lung cancers (9.5%) and colorectal cancers (8%).
  • In women, as reported by The Lancet, breast cancer was predominant in ALC with 25.2%, followed by lung cancer with an incidence of 8.5% and colorectal cancer with 8.2%.

Cancer in children

Regarding cancer in children and adolescents between 0 and 14 years old, the study reported that of the total number of new cases in the region, 1.5% are from this population.

According to the Global Cancer Observatory (Globocan), of the World Health Organization (WHO), about 29,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, the most common types being leukemia, lymphoma, tumors in the central nervous system, Wilms tumor (in the kidney) and retinoblastoma (cancer in the retina).

Now, in the midst of this negative information, there is good news coming from PAHO: "55% of children and adolescents with cancer are cured in Latin America and the Caribbean"; although for the experts this figure, more than an incentive, should be a warning to continue fighting against this disease.

“Although Latin America and the Caribbean is very close to the goal of 60% as a region, we must make every effort to close the gaps in care, reach all children and adolescents who need it and not have to regret preventable deaths.”, affirmed Mauricio Maza, regional adviser on cancer prevention and control at PAHO, in February of this year.