#WorldCancerDay Sunday 4 February 2018 | Breast Cancer UK

#WorldCancerDay Sunday 4 February 2018

Published 2 Feb 2018

This Sunday is World Cancer Day. We are focused on what’s happening in the UK and for breast cancer at least there has been some good news in recent weeks (breast cancer incidence rates and deaths from breast cancer are both falling). However, worldwide, breast cancer rates continue to rise.

Of the estimated 1.7 million women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, most will be in low and middle income countries (also known as the developing world, where most the world’s population live), where breast cancer rates have been increasing (1).

Why are breast cancer rates rising in these countries and can we do anything about it? 

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide more than 508,000 women died in 2011 due to breast cancer (2). Whilst the proportion of women who get breast cancer is still higher in the developed world, many middle and low-income countries are seeing rapid increases in the incidence of the disease. Moreover, due to less access to treatment most breast cancer deaths (around two thirds of) occur in developing countries (3).

So why are incidence rates increasing so much in the developing world? 

We think the main reason more women are getting breast cancer in the developing world is simply because they are living longer. Women are also having fewer children and having them later in life.   Having fewer children later in life and getting older are both risk factors for breast cancer. But these are risk factors that we cannot and would not want to address.  

As the low and middle-income countries get richer there are other risk factors that could become increasingly problematic but that we can do something about. The developing world can benefit from economic growth, whilst managing to avoid some of the negative side-effects on people’s health. 

Action is needed to slow rising cancer incidence in the developing world.

  • Diet - Much of the developing world has moved or is moving towards a more western (grain-based) diet, which contributes to increased levels of obesity and several health issues in some countries. Excess weight is a risk factor for post-menopausal breast cancer, so as diets in the developing world change, this will be one risk factor that may become more problematic.
  • Less active lifestyles – A growth in more sedentary lifestyles coupled with lack of access to green spaces and sports facilities, may also lead to people doing less physical activity, which is a risk factor for many cancers, including breast cancer (4).
  • More polluted environments - Environmental factors are a root cause of a significant burden of death, disease and disability in the developing world. More effective regulation is needed to curb the emission of toxins at rates in excess of those tolerable to human health. The cumulative health impacts of human exposures to various toxins can be a factor in a range of chronic health conditions and disease, including breast cancer.

Breast cancer incidence is high in the UK, but we can help to reduce our risk by ensuring people can get more active, maintain a healthy weight, drink less alcohol, and live in a cleaner, less polluted environment. Countries in the developing world will also need to focus on these issues to help reduce rising incidence rates.

Help raise awareness this World Cancer Day via http://www.worldcancerday.org/

To take action for prevention right here in the UK - Write to your MP through our website and ask them to support a Parliamentary motion calling for a proper strategy for breast cancer prevention.

Thank you to everyone who has already emailed their MP.


1. The Lancet. (2009). Breast cancer in developing countries http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)61930-9/fulltext

2. WHO. Breast cancer: prevention and control. http://www.who.int/cancer/detection/breastcancer/en/index1.html

3. The Lancet. "Most breast and cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries, yet many could be prevented with cost-effective interventions." ScienceDaily, 2 November 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161102080119.htm

4. Theriau, C. F. et al. (2016). Voluntary physical activity abolishes the proliferative tumor growth microenvironment created by adipose tissue in animals fed a high fat diet. Journal of Applied Physiology 121: 139–153. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27150834

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