Global predictions of cancer deaths by the year 2060

18th January 2021

Palliative care improves outcomes for people with cancer, but in many countries access remains poor. Understanding future needs is essential for effective health system planning in response to global policy.

Researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute have published a population-based projection of the burden of serious health-related suffering associated with death from cancer to 2060, and present this data by age, gender, cancer type, and region, as defined by World Bank income.

Global projections of palliative care need were derived by combining World Health Organization cancer mortality projections (2016–2060) with estimates of serious health-related suffering among people who died of cancer. The researchers found that by 2060, 16.3 million people dying with cancer each year will experience serious health-related suffering.  This compares with a figure of 7.8 million in 2016. Serious health-related suffering among people dying from cancer will increase more quickly in low income countries (407% increase 2016–2060) compared to lower-middle, upper-middle and high-income countries (168%, 96% and 39% increase 2016-2060, respectively).

By 2060, 67% of people who die with cancer and experience serious health-related suffering will be over 70 years old, compared to 47% in 2016. In high and upper-middle income countries, lung cancer will be the single greatest contributor to the burden of serious health-related suffering of people dying with cancer. In low and lower-middle income countries, breast cancer will be the single greatest contributor.

There is increasing evidence that palliative care is effective and cost-effective in both high and low and middle-income countries. For these reasons, the 2014 World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution called for all governments to integrate palliative care into their health plans. However, it is estimated that just 14% of the people who need palliative care receive it, and most of these people are in high-income countries.

The research shows that many people with cancer will die with unnecessary suffering unless there is expansion of palliative care integration into cancer programmes. Failure to do this will be damaging for the individuals affected, their families and the health systems treating them.

Sleeman KE, Gomes B, de Brito M, Shamieh O, Harding R. The burden of serious health-related suffering among cancer decedents: Global projections study to 2060. Palliat Med. 2021 Jan;35(1):231-235. doi: 10.1177/0269216320957561. Epub 2020 Sep 18. PMID: 32945226.