The Lost Years of Cancer

Cancer cost 70 million years of healthy life in 2008

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The big C takes a chunk out of human life, wherever it appears – in whatever form. The lost years and the lost productivity take their toll not just on individuals and their families – but the entire world.

According to a recent study, in the year 2008 nearly 70 million years of healthy life were stolen by cancer. These include not only the years of life lost in death, but also the years of disability the disease caused.

"Be grateful for your health."

Researchers, led by Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, analyzed data from cancer registries around the world.

They were looking at what they call disability-adjusted life-years, or DALYs. This measure includes the effects of fatal cancer and also the impacts of cancer-related disabling events, such as a breast cancer mastectomy or the loss of fertility for a woman with cervical cancer.

This method offers greater insights than simply looking at mortality rates, according to Ahmedin Jemel, DVM, PhD of the American Cancer Center. In a linked comment, Dr. Jemel said that “DALY give more weight to deaths occurring at young ages at which people are more likely to be working, raising children, and supporting other family members."

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • The biggest cancer burden is found in eastern European men - 3,146 age-adjusted DALYs lost per 100,000 men.
  • The highest burden for women was in sub-Saharan Africa - 2,749 DALYs lost per 100,000 women.
  • Breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers contributed the most DALYs in most areas of the world.
  • Infection-related cancers such as liver, stomach and cervical cancers were highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Asia.
  • Access to care has not improved the lifespan of those diagnosed with cancers that generally have poor outlooks, including lung, stomach, liver and pancreatic cancers.
  • Primary prevention is critical to easing the global cancer burden.

One of the study authors, Dr. Freddie Bray, deputy head of the IARC's Section of Cancer Information, said, “Our findings illustrate quite starkly how cancer is already a barrier to sustainable development in many of the poorest countries across the world, and this will only be exacerbated in the coming years if cancer control is neglected."

The study authors wrote, “Programs for cancer care that are tailored to the needs of individual low-income countries need to be developed and tested, Inadequate prevention, early detection, and treatment programs need reassessment in view of long-term increases in the predicted future burden of cancer in these areas.

This study was published October 16 in The Lancet

The research was funded by Dutch Scientific Society, Erasmus University Rotterdam and International Agency for research on Cancer. The authors reported no financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 15, 2012
Last Updated:
October 15, 2012