The Lancet: Preventing cancer: the only way forward

19 August, 2022

Citation, extracts and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Preventing cancer: the only way forward

Diana Sarfati, Jason Gurney

The Lancet Comment| volume 400, issue 10352, p540-541, august 20, 2022

Published:August 20, 2022 DOI:


The growing global burden of cancer is rapidly exceeding the current cancer control capacity. More than 19 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2020 worldwide, and 10 million people died of cancer...

In The Lancet, the Global Burden of Disease Study collaborators report on their effort to examine the relationship between indicators of metabolic, occupational, environmental, and behavioural risk factors, and cancers globally []. Using estimates of cancer incidence, mortality, and risk factor data from 204 countries, and covering risk factors from tobacco use to workplace carcinogen exposure, the authors found 4·45 million deaths (95% uncertainty interval 4·01–4·94) and 105 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs; 95·0–116) were lost as a result of these risk factors, accounting for 44·4% of cancer deaths (41·3–48·4) and 42·0% of cancer DALYs (39·1–45·6).

Tobacco use (36·3% of cancer deaths for males and 12·3% for females), alcohol use (6·9% of cancer deaths for males and 2·3% for females), and high BMI (4·2% of cancer deaths for males and 5·2% for females) accounted for the highest proportion of cancer deaths globally with unsafe sex (6·5% of cancer deaths for females) also being among the top three risk factors in low and low–middle sociodemographic Index (SDI) countries...

The overriding message of this research is clear: a substantial proportion of cancers, most likely a majority when infectious diseases are considered, is preventable...

It is no accident that behaviours associated with higher risk of cancer are patterned according to poverty, particularly within countries...

The primary prevention of cancer through eradication or mitigation of modifiable risk factors is our best hope of reducing the future burden of cancer. Reducing this burden will improve health and wellbeing, and alleviate the compounding effects on humans and the fiscal resourcing pressure within cancer services and the wider health sector.

COMMENT: The authors of the article above, and the Global Burden of Disease Study, do not comment on the role of healthcare information in cancer. Previous discussions on HIFA have highlighted the fact that many people are unaware of the health risks associated with smoking and other harmful behaviours. They often only become aware of the risks when they develop disease. From a human rights perspective, people have a right to know. Every person has a right to the reliable healthcare information they need to protect their own health and the health of others.

Best wishes, Neil

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Global Coordinator HIFA,

Global Healthcare Information Network: Working in official relations with WHO