In this day and age, having good health can be a privilege, and sadly, we all know someone who has cancer. Besides, it feels like more people are being diagnosed in the last few years. Depending on where you live, finding out you or your loved one might have it can be either rare or widespread. There are many places where cancer rates are low, and understanding and researching why some areas are more vulnerable than others is something that scientists worldwide are investigating to understand better and fight this terrible disease.
Most of the reasons why rates are higher in some places than others depend on many aspects like the environment, medical technology, and even government campaigns and initiatives to prevent it. Some of the reasons some countries might have worse than others can be essential to treat and beat the disease. One of the things they have found is that it’s more prevalent in high-income countries because of lifestyle factors like alcohol intake, smoking, and obesity. We collected data like reports from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and looked into which countries have the lowest cancer rates. In this article, we’ll go in-depth on why some countries are more affected than others and what we can learn from it to eradicate this disease once and for all. After reading, you can get more information about diet tips that may help prevent cancer.
24. What is cancer?
In general, cancer is a group of diseases in different parts of the body that can divide itself and spread, infecting tissue around it. It can start anywhere in the human body, so when it develops, the cells in your body start becoming more abnormal. Instead of dying out, they keep going, and new cells keep dividing themselves and forming what we know as tumors. Most cancers are solid tumors, but they generally do not develop when it comes to blood cancers like Leukemia. These tumors can grow, break, and then keep invading nearby tissue if it’s not treated.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, behind cardiovascular disease makes it a big deal to investigate what can be done to lower the number of cases. Fortunately, medical advances and technology are helping have better options to treat different types, making the chances of survival even higher than 30 years ago. Countries with a sound health system can detect and treat faster than countries with a poor health care infrastructure. Before checking on those countries with the lowest cancer rates, let us first examine why so many people are getting cancer.
Many factors can lead to getting any type of cancer, which is something that scientist to this day is still trying to figure out—being one of the leading causes of death worldwide and having so many types of cancer make things a bit more complicated. What is known is that the disease comes about from the transformation of normal cells that turn into tumor cells that most of the time progress from a pre-cancerous lesion into a malignant tumor. It can be the result of a combination of a person’s genetic factors with three external agents.
The first external agent that can cause it is a physical carcinogen like ionizing radiation or ultraviolet exposure. The second is chemical carcinogens. There are over 400 chemicals listed by the International Agency for Research of Cancer, like tobacco smoke, arsenic, a drinking water contaminant, and asbestos. Lastly, biological carcinogens can be infections from certain viruses, parasites, and bacteria. The aging factor rises dramatically over the years because of risk accumulation. Combine this with cellular repair mechanisms being less effective as people age.
Breast cancer is the most common one, with more than 2 million cases worldwide every year. It is most common in women, but it can also occur in men. With over 42,000 deaths every year, this type is a severe matter. Fortunately, there are better treatments and easier ways to diagnose because of substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding. Thus, the survival rates have increased over the years, and deaths are also declining because of early detection and a better understanding to have a personalized treatment for every patient.
This type of cancer occurs when some breast cells start growing abnormally, growing faster than healthy cells, and after a while, it forms a lump or mass. It can also spread rapidly through the breast and other parts of the body. Doctors have found that it is caused by a complex interaction with the environment and genetic makeup. Around 5 to 10% of breast cancers are linked to a gene mutation; this is why it is crucial that if you have a family member who has had breast cancer, see your doctor at least once a year for a check-up.
Another common type is lung cancer. Lung cancer is prevalent for both men and women. It can be a very aggressive type of cancer if it’s not treated on time, but doctors and scientists are noticing a change in the stats, and it’s not primarily because of early diagnosis. One of the most common environmental causes for this cancer to develop is smoking tobacco, and thanks to other alternatives like vaping, people are changing habits. The cases are getting lower too. Furthermore, lung cancer deaths are also reducing because of early detection.
Even when most cancer patients are 65 years or older, a small number is younger than 45. Still, lung cancer numbers of cases in places like the United States are very high. About 235,760 new cases are estimated to happen in 2021; from those, around 119,000 will be men, and 116,660 will be women. From those, about 131,000 deaths are expected. It mainly occurs in people that are 65 years or older. However, there is a small number that gets diagnosed before 45. The numbers are scary. However, if society keeps staying away from smoking tobacco, lung cancer will hopefully become less common in the coming years.
20. Why is it so important to have early detection?
Going to your general doctor at least once a year to get a check-up can help increase your chances of surviving the illness, especially if you have early detection. There are two components for early detection: one is an early diagnosis. That can make cancer more likely to respond to the treatment, and as a result, the chances of surviving are greater, with less morbidity and less expensive and shorter treatment. There are three steps to follow – have to access care, a clinical evaluation, diagnosis, staging, and finally, access to treatment. Following this will make a difference to the patient.
The second component for early detection are regular screenings. That can help identify individuals with abnormalities of specific cancer or one that has not developed with any symptoms, which can be referred for a diagnosis and treatment. Screening programs are effective in identifying cancer types when the proper tests are being used. Some can be very complex if you compare it to an early diagnosis, but it works. So getting an early screening can save your life. Now that we talk about the causes and the importance of early detection, we can take a general look at why some countries have higher cancer rates than others.
You might think that a more advanced and developed country might have fewer cancer risks than anywhere else in the world, but sadly that is not the case. Great access to healthcare and medical technology has indeed lowered the chances of dying from it. However, the “side effect” of this is that modern medicine enables people to survive this disease, meaning they pass on their genetic background next generation. As a result, some types of cancers have doubled and sometimes quadrupled in the world over the past 100 years, and studies show an accumulation of cancer incidents over four to five generations.
A study published in the Journal Evolutionary Applications claims that modern medicine has enabled humans to live longer than we used to hundreds of years ago. However, this side effect of having genetic material being passed from one generation to the next, predisposes people to have poor health. They also looked at countries with the greatest opportunity to survive cancer. They compared it with those that didn’t and considered factors like socioeconomic status, fertility rates, quality of medical services, and other factors. It is controversial research, but they concluded that the only way for humankind to get rid of cancer is through genetic engineering to repair the affected genes and kill cancer.
18. Which continent has the highest-rated cancer cases?
Of the top ten countries with the highest total instances, seven are in Europe, with one in four cancer diagnoses coming from this region. In contrast, Europeans represent about one-tenth of the global population, so the numbers are worrisome. In 2018, Europe had an estimate of 3.9 million new cancer cases and 1.9 million cancer deaths. European countries being at the top for the highest number of cases can be worrisome for the population, especially for northern countries because of their higher level of radon-radiation from the ground, because of substances like coal which are linked to some types of cancers.
In places like Ireland, 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime, with incidence trends for all cancer sites rising, not only in Ireland but also in many other areas. However, it had slowed down in recent years. The types of cancers that have a slower increase are breast and prostate cancer, but there is an increase in colorectal cancer. However, not all is bad news; even with those scary numbers, in recent years, the cancer death rates are steadily decreasing in all of Europe, mostly because of the decreasing death rates from breast, prostate, and lung cancer. Although male mortality rates are dropping, lung cancer rates still rise for women across Europe.
Around 30 to 50 percent of cancers that science knows about so far can be prevented with a few lifestyle changes and implementing evidence-based prevention strategies. You can also reduce the risks by early detection and management for patients who develop cancer. Many types of cancers have a higher chance of being cured quickly with just an early diagnosis and the proper treatment. Nevertheless, there are also other ways to help besides going to your doctor at least annually. You can look into modifying and avoiding risk factors, which is not too hard to do. In the end, it might save your life.
Doctors have a list of recommendations that include avoiding tobacco use, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. These products are the primary reasons people develop lung and throat cancers. Being overweight or obese with an unhealthy diet without low fruit and vegetable intake, plus lack of physical activity, is a big problem, especially in the United States and other developed countries. Other things to avoid include alcohol use, urban air pollution, ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, infection by hepatitis, and sexually transmitted HPV infection. In some cases like HPV, there is a vaccination that can reduce the risks drastically.
It makes a big difference when countries have suitable facilities, specialists, and equipment to treat and manage the journey into recovery and survival. Patients need to have a cost-effective intervention like surgery, radiotherapy, and easy access to oncologic drugs if we want to improve cancer survival worldwide. Sadly, some countries do not have the resources, which means that people will need to travel to another country to get the treatment. But if they can’t afford the expenses, they will end up dying without the help they need. That is a too common occurrence in many middle and low-income countries. One in four people will not get the surgery or treatment they need due to infrastructure and workforce limitations.
Around 8 million people die annually because of poor quality care, including many due to cancer. 80% of early-stage and late-stage people need surgery. Unfortunately, one in four patients globally will not get the surgery they need due to infrastructure and workforce limitations or lack of affordability. 60% need radiotherapy to cure certain tumors, relieve symptoms, shrink tumors before surgery, or kill remaining cancer cells after surgery to avoid recurrence. In many countries like Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, and Latin America, the radiotherapy coverage is less than optimal. However, places like Africa are implementing some changes to have the required facilities and workforce.
15. Which country has the lowest rate in the world?
The answer is Israel. Being the lowest rate on the planet might sound like an achievement; cancer is still the biggest killer for Israel’s population, followed by heart disease and diabetes. There are around 177 cancer deaths for every 100,000 people, which sounds like a lot, but when you compare it with places like Britain, which has 217 deaths for every 100,000, you can see a difference. This study was made by analyzing all the deaths in Israel in 2016. In that year, almost 44,000 residents died, and 25.2% were claimed by cancer.
The highest cancer deaths in Israel in men is lung cancer and breast cancer in women. The number of deaths by cancer is getting slightly lower every year. That is primarily because of improvements in some branches of medicine and healthcare. Because of this improvement, even heart-related deaths, which were the leading cause of death in Israel since the 1990s, started declining. It’s a considerable improvement with most health-related issues, but there is still a lot of work to do.
For decades, scientists and researchers have studied Japan’s population because it is considered one of the world’s healthiest countries. They also have the longest average life expectancy with a low mortality rate with cancer and heart diseases. In the 1960s, it was the opposite; Japan had the shortest life expectancy with high mortality with many diseases, including stomach cancer. However, decades of medical research, better healthcare, and a population taking better care of themselves have made the difference to lower rates. One of the most significant lifestyle changes the population did was being more active and eating healthier.
Japan’s diet of fish, vegetables, and low sugar drinks might be the key for the long life expectancy. The lower numbers are thought to be because of a low prevalence of obesity, with a low intake of red meats and saturated fatty acids. They also spend time eating lots of fish, plant foods like soybeans, and low-sugar drinks like green tea. An increase in animal foods, like dairy products, and a decrease in high salty foods helped decrease mortality for other diseases like cerebrovascular ones. It helped with high blood pressure and reduced the chances of stomach cancer. A diet with plant food and fish, a modest quantity of dairy, and being active were the key to a healthier population.
Malta was ranked as the eighth lowest in 50 countries by the World Cancer Research Fund. With 211 cases per 100,000 of the population, Britain had 267 cases per 100,000, ranking 22nd on the list. Health researchers said that even if the numbers are getting lower, other diseases like cardiovascular which are their top killers, are not, which is a problem they are trying to work on. Malta also placed 24th in the breast cancer rates with only 72 cases every 100,000 people every year. Obesity and alcohol consumption with lower levels of physical activity can put you at risk.
Being a high-income country means that cases can be higher because of higher levels of obesity and alcohol consumption with lower physical activity levels, but that’s not Malta’s case. They have a very centralized health care system which has helped to make the cancer registry more comprehensive. That has allowed to have more screenings and having early detection of any anomalies, saving more lives than in other places. Even with that, they are still working on having a better health system to make half a million people in Malta healthy and make those cancer cases lower every year.
That belongs to the Czech Republic. From 1990 to 2015, their cancer-related mortality rate had dropped significantly by 18%, with declines in mortality from stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer for women, and lung cancer for men. This drop-in mortality also means that people die at a higher age. Nevertheless, this is good news for the Czech Republic; cancer continues to be the number one cause of death, followed by cardiovascular diseases. When some types of cancer types had dropped, others went up, affecting more men than women but not by much.
Cases of lung cancer are more visible in women than in men in the Czech Republic. Types of cancer like liver, skin, and pancreas are prevalent for both sexes — and lung cancer for women. Researchers have an explanation as to why there’s a gender gap. It is partly because of the greater prevalence because of the risk factors among men, like smoking. Men have a higher mortality burden because of lung cancer, with a total of 22% of all the cancer-related deaths, even though the numbers had decreased for men, while women got higher. Even with all this, it’s excellent news that mortality rates lower down over the last 25 years, which brings us closer to getting rid of it completely.
11. Rwanda is on the road to wipe out cervical cancer.
For many years, Rwanda had some of the highest cervical cancer rates globally, and for the longest time, it felt like there was no way to stop it. It wasn’t until 2011, after many negotiations with the government, that the HPV vaccine came to Rwanda. With thousands of new cases every year in the world, having this vaccine was a game-changer. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections globally and the 4th most common cancer type. To protect the population, the government took action to make the vaccine available for everyone.
Since Rwanda didn’t have any cervical cancer screenings in public health facilities, they launched a national strategic plan to prevent, control, and manage cervical lesions and cancer with their new vaccination program. They made it available to women in many places, including schools. The vaccine was administered in schools and strategic locations to reach out to school girls worldwide. Rwanda’s ministry and its high coverage of the HPV vaccine for girls is a giant step to wipe out cervical cancer. It’s an extraordinary public health achievement that we hope other countries will also put into action.
To help lower the number of cancer cases worldwide, researchers from around the globe created The Cancer Atlas. It is a new tool for global leaders to help determine what actions they must take to control cancer and lower the cases. Also, it is a partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, and the Union for International Cancer Control. With this book and website, they want to feature data highlighting the complex nature of the global cancer landscape. That way, they can work on strategies while analyzing the big global picture.
The prediction is that by 2030 the number of new cancer cases worldwide will increase from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million. That is because of population growth and aging. However, every country having its own sets of challenges. These include the level of development, risk factors, demographics, and lifestyle patterns. Seeing all the issues from a global perspective can bring solutions that were not thought of. Researchers from all over the world have been working on many data sources to create this tool and take better control. Besides, having this information at hand will make things easier to find better solutions.
In the list of the highest cancer rates, Australia is at number one with 468 cancer cases every 100,000 people. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death with over 9,000 people killed and 12,500 new cases in just 2018. Lung cancer is responsible for one in every five cancer diagnoses in the nation. With those alarming numbers, Australia is now fighting to minimize the risk with a government-led public health campaign. It is in collaboration with the Lung Foundation Australia. Together, they wish to mitigate the cases and bring public attention and education of the dangers of smoking, causing 90% of the lung cancer cases.
A few campaigns were launched across Australia. The most well-done is the “QuitNow” campaign, encouraging people to stop smoking. It is also used to inform and educate the population of the health benefits that cessation has and help families and friends of smokers. The government is putting very graphic pictures of what smoking does to your body. They target the lungs, heart, and brain, with added health warnings to reduce youth smoking rates. So far, all the implementations and education have been successful. They already see a drop in cases, deaths, and cigarette sales are lower.
8. China is creating a new treatment for liver cancer.
Liver cancer is one of the most common types and one of the most aggressive, with a 5-year survival rate of 28%. China has the highest liver cancer rate globally and is the second leading cause of premature death in adults 30-60 years old. Fortunately, the cases and deaths are now decreasing. Why? It is thanks to programs for preventing aflatoxin exposure and familial transmission of hepatitis B virus. The virus is one of the two major contributors to liver cancer. What is even better, they are working on creating a material to treat this disease.
Chinese scientists are developing a nanometer material integrated with radiotherapy. It will provide an efficient and safe strategy for treating liver cancer. Even if radiotherapy is a standard form of treating cancer, hypoxic microenvironments prevalent in solid tumors are not sensitive to radiation, allowing some cancer cells to survive and continue spreading. So scientists at the Suzhou Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology are fabricating a nanoparticle made of silicon dioxide and gold. It can reach tumor tissues by intravenous injection, enhancing the sensitivity of tumor tissue to radiation, making radiotherapy more effective.
7. The Netherlands promoting cycling to get people moving.
Being the number ten in the ranking for the highest cancer deaths, with 334 cases every 100,000 people, the Netherlands is looking for ways to make people healthier and active by investing 552 million Euros on bicycle infrastructure. You may be asking yourself why, well not only is it better for the environment, by using bikes instead of cars, but it’s also a way to fight this disease. Most of the most common types in the Netherlands are associated with excess body weight and physical inactivity. Just by keeping their citizens on the move, it had lower deaths by 6,500.
They are making a freeway for cyclists, which have routes connecting cities 10 miles apart and adding 25,000 more bike parking spaces around Amsterdam’s Central Station, Heerlen Station, and Rotterdam Central. They aim to get 200,000 people added to the 17 million that already use this transportation method. Since distances between cities are short, since the 1960s the urban planning has ensured that The Netherlands has a way to reduce traffic. This solution to push people to use a more active transportation method saves lives, helps pollution, and educates the citizens on getting in shape.
6. Mexico’s health insurance fighting health inequities.
In 2020, breast cancer was the most deadly type of cancer among Mexican women, while prostate cancer caused the largest number of deaths among Mexican male patients. Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death among Mexican children. So in 2002, the government of Mexico, to reduce health inequities, created Seguro Popular as public health insurance that can cover a wide range of services without any co-pays. Before making this Universal Health insurance, only half of the Mexican population had health insurance, mainly through their employer. The rest, like the self-employed, unemployed, and underemployed, didn’t have any other choice than to access health services via public providers with co-pay or paying for private care. Mexico’s Seguro Popular health care will cover rates between indigenous and non-indigenous populations.
Today, Seguro Popular offers universal health coverage mandatory and has improved access to care, treatment, and survival to many people, raising the survival rate for breast cancer and childhood cancer patients. Seguro Popular is gradually expanding to include 55.6 million more people, and between 2009 and 2013, around 24 million people joined, with over 22 million affiliates receiving a preventive health risk screening. It had also virtually eliminated the gap in insurance coverage rates between indigenous and non-indigenous populations, offering the same advances in narrowing service utilization gaps and even health outcomes.
We all know how harmful smoking tobacco can be for humans. Lung cancer is on the rise in the Philippines, making the government find ways to lower the cases by creating a new tobacco tax law that increases the cigarette taxes, with an incremental increase every three years and a 5% indexation from 2024 onwards. All this new tax revenue will go to universal healthcare for low-income people, improve health infrastructure, and help tobacco farming communities. This law will save thousands of people, providing them with the right health care for early detection and treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that this new tobacco tax measure will save around 260,000 lives by 2023 and decrease deaths attributed to smoking. It will also reduce the number of cigarette smokers by one million, just with this tobacco tax rate. This law will also apply to the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products. There is still work to be done, like restricting the marketing and promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products, especially those with unproven health claims. However, this is a giant step to lower the cases and save more lives.
4. Jordan is getting rid of smoking during the pandemic.
There is a silver lining during this COVID-19 crisis. There is evidence that shows that smokers are more vulnerable than non-smokers in the pandemic. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, with their partnership with the Access Initiative for Quitting tobacco, decided to donate $800,000 worth of nicotine replacement therapy that aims to help thousands of Jordanians and refugees to quit smoking during the pandemic. This donation to the Ministry of Health in Jordan will also come with free counseling free of charge to help people quit smoking. It is available for anyone that needs it.
Expanding these services within their primary health care will also help the 5,400 frontline workers that have their hands busy at the moment. Jordan is the first country to take this help. It is a joint initiative between the World Health Organization, the UN Interagency Task Force on NCD Prevention and Control, and the Coalition for Access to NCD Medicines and Products. This initiative is designed to help countries have a smoking cessation service. The service will help physically with nicotine replacement therapy and tobacco’s mental addiction. We will have to wait and see how effective this will be for lowering the cases of lung cancer.
3. Mongolia is not taking breaks to lower mortality rates.
Mongolia is on the list of the highest mortality rates due to non-communicable diseases, including most cancers. In 2018 alone, six of the ten deaths in Mongolia were due to cardiovascular disease or cancer. With a high population being smokers, the high risk of child and adult obesity has increased over the last two decades. The government approved a National Sustainable Development Vision 2030, which will reduce mortality by cancer and other diseases to 17 cases out of 10,000 people. This plan will ensure their healthcare system has an upgrade to work on lowering the death numbers.
The Mongolian Government Ministry of Health joined forces with the World Health Organization and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They create a guide on identifying patients at high risk of non-communicable disease and using an ePrescription to gather essential data. With this, people will better understand the risk factors, get better health financing, and improve evidence-based management in primary care. They can also strengthen mechanisms for monitoring, capacity building, and surveillance. It will also help train the clinical staff, get new resources and get new equipment to improve patient care and offer the proper treatment.
2. First Ladies of Nigeria in the quest of eliminating cervical cancer.
Nigeria has one of the highest numbers for cervical cancer in the world. In 2018 alone, they reported over 15,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths from this disease. However, these cases deal with poor awareness mixed with a flawed healthcare system. They lacks a screening policy and accurate diagnostic tools that are so important to lower mortality. So in August of 2020, 194 countries took a stand against cervical cancer and committed to eliminating it. The First Ladies of Nigeria is an organization that serves as advocacy to increase awareness, access to cancer care and influence policy direction in Nigeria to reduce the cases in the country. They are calling into action to eliminate cervical cancer by the end of 2030.
The First Ladies call other countries to get on the same path for cervical cancer elimination with some targets in mind to achieve it by 2030. In the objectives, they have vaccinating 90% of girls younger than 15 years old with the HPV vaccine. Also, 70% of women screened twice in their lifetime, using a high-performance test. Furthermore, having 90% of the women identified with cervical cancer receive the treatment. Even if it’s a very ambitious objective, the First Ladies of Nigeria are committed to their mission. Even with the dismal healthcare delivery and production rate of the vaccines, they aim to change that. These ladies wish to get rid of this disease once and for all.
1. America and its mission to prevent skin cancer.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types, just in the United States. Almost 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, and new cases keep growing. Most types of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning devices. With 82,000 diagnosed every year and 8,000 fatalities from it, it has become the National Center of Chronic Diseases, something to educate about, especially because teens and young adults are more in danger. Learning how to protect yourself from ultraviolet radiation will help you not to become a victim of it.
The CDC is working to prevent this disease by detecting it early and reducing the health care cost. One of the best ways to reduce skin cancer is to make sure that when having fun in the sun, especially if it’s a daily habit, to avoid sun tanning and indoor tanning at all costs. The CDC also works with communities and decision-makers to increase shade at playgrounds, public pools, and other public spaces. It is also vital to promote sun protection by using sunscreen, sunglasses, hats that can protect you from the rays.