Lifestyle & Belief

Latin America threatened with cancer epidemic


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L), smile at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on January 9, 2012. President Hugo Chavez passed away on March 5, 2013 in Caracas after a long fight with cancer.


Juan Barreto

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Latin America faces a cancer epidemic if governments don't act quickly to improve healthcare systems, experts say.

While there are fewer actual cases of cancer in the region than in the US or Europe, the proportion who die is much higher.

Researchers say that there are around 163 cases of cancer per 100,000 people in Latin America, whereas that figure is 300 in the US and 254 in Europe. But in Latin America, there are 13 deaths for every 22 cancer cases, while the US has 13 deaths for every 37 cases and the rate in Europe is 13 deaths for every 30 cases.

There will be an estimated 1.7 million cases of cancer diagnosed across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2030, and more than 1 million deaths are expected.

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The Lancet Oncology report says that the growing economies of these countries have increased standards of living, leading people to adopt the habits of more developed countries. People in Latin America are now living more sedentary lifestyles, eating less healthy meals, smoking more and drinking more alcohol. They also have a higher risk due to sun exposure and indoor pollution caused by burning solid fuels.

But experts say the main reason for the increasing cancer rate is that too many people are diagnosed at a late stage, when it is much harder to treat and more likely to lead to death. Another factor linked to late diagnosis is that more than half of the population of Latin America — 320 million people — have inadequate or no health insurance.

"Latin American countries have focused their health investment on prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, whereas spending on non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, has not kept pace," said Paul Goss of Harvard Medical School, who led the team of experts that produced the report.

"However, cancers are diseases of aging people, and researchers estimate that by 2020 more than 100 million people in Latin America will be over 60 years of age."