Breast cancer predicted to claim a million lives annually by 2040 : Lancet’s alarming projection

Even with remarkable progress in research, treatments, and improving survival chances, breast cancer fatalities are estimated to soar, hitting low- and middle-income nations hardest

Breast Cancer

A recent study has shown that breast cancer has become the most widespread cancer globally. The study suggests that by 2040, this disease could sadly lead to a million deaths each year. Even with remarkable progress in research, treatments, and improving survival chances, breast cancer fatalities are estimated to soar to one million per year by 2024, hitting low- and middle-income nations hardest.

Between 2015 and 2020, a staggering 7.8 million women across the globe were diagnosed with breast cancer, according to a fresh Lancet report.

In 2020, women globally faced an increasing risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer before reaching 75, with an average chance of 1 in 12, according to researchers. In the same year, a staggering 2.3 million new cases of breast cancer were detected worldwide, and tragically, approximately 685,000 women lost their lives to this disease within that year.

Researchers anticipate a surge in breast cancer cases from 2.3 million in 2020 to over 3 million by 2040, with low- and middle-income countries facing a disproportionate impact. Beyond genetic mutations, the CDC points out that age, gender, family history, reproductive factors, hormone therapy, obesity, alcohol, and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to breast cancer risk. Additionally, they predict that by 2040, annual breast cancer deaths will reach one million globally.

The study’s results were released in The Lancet Commission journal. The author stated ,“This is neither acceptable nor inevitable as action now can prevent many of these future cancers.”

The authors of the commission highlighted that the true extent of suffering and other associated costs related to breast cancer is not adequately quantified, suggesting that society and policymakers only perceive a fraction of the overall impact, akin to seeing just the “tip of an iceberg.”

The commission lead author Charlotte Coles said “Recent improvements in breast cancer survival represent a great success of modern medicine.However, we can’t ignore how many patients are being systematically left behind.”

The authors emphasize that the commission not only builds upon existing evidence and introduces new data but also incorporates patient perspectives to unveil a significant yet often overlooked burden. 

According to Dr. Minish Jain, a senior medical oncologist ( not associated with The Lancet Commission), the main concern lies in delayed diagnosis and unfavorable outcomes for women. She also mentioned that a basic clinical breast examination and increased awareness could be beneficial.

Another expert,Dr. Sanjoy Chatterjee emphasizes the importance of readiness in handling future occurrences. “we need a solid database and find areas to drive research so that there is an uplift in the quality of life of a breast cancer patient,” Dr Chatterjee told Indian Express.

breast cancer
Image: The Financial Express

The Lancet commission outlined recommendations to address breast cancer challenges, highlighting improved patient-health professional communication as a pivotal step. Enhancing communication could enhance quality of life, body image, treatment adherence, and ultimately, survival rates.

Reshma Jagsi, Emory University School of Medicine, US. said,“Women’s fundamental human rights have historically been accorded lesser respect than men’s in all settings, with implications for patient agency and autonomy,”

“Every healthcare professional should receive some form of communication skills training. Improving the quality of communication between patients and health professionals, though seemingly simple, could have profound positive impacts that extend far beyond the specific setting of breast cancer management.” Further adding, “Patients should be encouraged to exercise their voices, choosing their level of involvement in care decisions.”

Author Carlos Barrios from the Oncology Research Center at Hospital São Lucas in Brazil stated “Global data are essential to expose and better understand and address the multiplicity of needs of all people affected by breast cancer and significantly reduce the global burden of preventable suffering.”

The authors urged for “bold policy changes” to decrease exposure to controllable risk factors like alcohol, obesity, and physical inactivity. They noted that up to one-quarter of breast cancer cases in high-income countries could be prevented by addressing these factors. Coles expressed hope that bringing attention to breast cancer’s inequalities and hidden burdens will lead to improved recognition and action by healthcare professionals, policymakers, patients, and the public globally.

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