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Cancer: out of control epidemic or evidence of human progress?

World cancer day on February the 4th brought a lot of writing about cancer to the web. Some of that is useful information for committed insurance professionals. It isn't all good news. For example, as some regions get wealthier they have increasing rates of cancer. That can be from a reduction in other causes of death that tend to occur earlier in life, but it can also come from a shift in lifestyle factors - such as eating more red meat. There is also plenty of good news there, and lots of potential for good news to come.

Much of the global increase in cancer arises from a reduction in other causes of death, and is simply a consequence of longer life. Much cancer could be avoided, for example, by increasing physical activity, eliminating tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption, and changing diet.

There are several good sources of more detailed information on global cancer trends. I found this report particularly useful. Also, Max Roser has several great data-visualisations on cancer and I reproduce two here to show both the increasing number of cases of cancer, and actual reduction in age-adjusted rates of cancer. (Do refer to his excellent blog post on the subject).

First, the number of cancer deaths by type:

 Contrast that with the age-standardised death rates from different forms of cancer over time and you get a more realistic picture, which also underlines the broad (albeit slow) progress that has been made on this terrible category of diseases:

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