Cancer burden in South Africa

Cancer burden in our country PICTURE: Supplied

Cancer burden in our country PICTURE: Supplied

Published Dec 19, 2016


Lung cancer, cervical cancer, and esophageal cancer are the three deadliest cancers in South Africa, accounting for more than 1900 deaths last year only.


According to a new analysis of 32 cancer groups in 195 countries titled: Global, Regional, and National Cancer Incidence, Mortality, Years of Life Lost, Years Lived With Disability, and Disability Adjusted Life-years

, cancer caused over 8.7 million deaths globally and was the second leading cause of death behind cardiovascular diseases. In SA, there were 114 091 new cancer cases in the country, and 58 237 deaths in total in 2015. 

About 19 160 deaths last year could be attributed to cervical, lung cancer and esophageal cancer.

Professor Benn Sartorius (crt), a co-author of the study, based in Public Health Medicine at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said.

JAMA Oncology,

The disease burden of cancer is growing in South Africa, and health infrastructure and resource allocation will not be capable of dealing with it unless substantial changes are made and more dedicated funding is realised,” 

The study, which has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) states that between 2005 and 2015, cancer cases increased by 33 percent, with population aging contributing 16 percent, population growth 13 percent, and changes in age-specific rates contributing 4 percent. 

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For men, the most common cancer globally was prostate cancer, with 1.6 million cases of it reported. Tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in men with 1.2 million deaths.

For women, the most common cancer was breast cancer, with 2.4 million cases. Breast cancer was also the leading cause of cancer deaths women with 523 000 deaths. 

In South Africa, breast cancer is the most common cancer for women, but cervical cancer is the deadliest, with 5,406 female deaths last year.

The authors of the study called on government agencies and the private sector to expand prevention efforts, especially in lower Socio-demographic Index (SDI) countries where several of the deadliest cancers such as cervical and liver cancer, are also the most preventable.

“The cancer divide is real and growing,” said lead author Christina Fitzmaurice (crt), assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. 

“The number of new cancer cases is climbing almost everywhere in the world, putting an increasing strain on even the most advanced health systems. But the most rapid and troubling escalation can be seen in countries of lower development status, which can ill afford it," she continued.

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Death rates per 100,000 people were also found to be rising for the top 10 causes of cancer death in SA, with the exceptions of esophageal and stomach cancer. The most marked increases were displayed by colorectal cancer, with a death rate that rose 31 percent between 1990 and 2015; breast cancer, which grew 35 percent; ovarian cancer, up 41 percent; and the death rate of prostate cancer increased by 45 percent.

Satorius added: “Initiatives such as the Global Burden of Disease Study allow us to track cancer trends in a timely fashion. This will continue to assist countries such as South Africa with regards to cancer burden tracking and planning as we move toward the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030."

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