Cancer rates will surge 57 percent in next 20 years, report says

Smoking remains major risk factor, but better diets and more exercise will help

A new report from the World Health Organization warns that cancer rates around the world will experience a 57 percent surge over the next 20 years.

That would mean cancer diagnoses would rise from an estimated annual total of 14 million to 22 million. Deaths from cancer are also expected to rise during the same period, from 8.2 million deaths a year to 13 million.

The WHO’s World Cancer Report says that health care providers around the world will not be able to address the problem by simply treating cancer patients. In fact, the report argues that current cancer treatment costs — estimated at an annual $1.16 trillion — are already hurting major world economies.

Instead, the organization advises that governments focus on prevention and early diagnoses.

"We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem," Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, told CNN. "More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally."

If there’s any positive note in the study, which combined data from more than 40 countries, it’s that upwards of 50 percent of all cancer cases are deemed preventable through a combination of diet, exercise and early detection.

And if lifestyle choices are behind about half all cancer cases, some are wondering if world governments shouldn’t do more to encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices. For example, the number of cigarette smokers in the U.S. has been cut in half since anti-smoking advertising campaigns were first launched.

The WHO report says lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes (1.8 million cases a year) is still the leading case of fatal cancer around the world. It’s also the most lethal, with 1.6 million deaths each year, meaning nearly all cases are fatal.

"About a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being regularly physically active,” Amanda McLean, general manager of the World Cancer Research Fund, told Sky News. "These results show that many people still seem to mistakenly accept their chances of getting cancer as a throw of the dice.”

Reducing alcohol consumption and curbing obesity rates were cited as the other two leading methods to reduce the likelihood of getting cancer.

Further, statistical analysis reveals some positives. For instance, for some countries, increasing cancer rates are tied to increasingly elderly populations. In other words, the more advanced a country becomes, the longer its population lives, which drives up the total number of cancer cases even if other factors remain the same.

For example, the report says that if cancer cases in the U.S. are adjusted for an increasing average lifespan, the number of fatal cancer cases is actually decreasing.