Men and women in North America are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than in any other region in the world.

Worldwide, the report shows that there were 10.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 6.7 million cancer deaths reported in 2002.

Lung cancer (search) remains the biggest cancer threat, and it’s been the most common cancer worldwide since 1985.

Researchers say a striking finding of their study was that cancer is not a rare disease in developing countries, contrary to conventional wisdom.

For example, the results show that a man's risk of dying from cancer before age 65 is just 18 percent higher in developed countries. But a woman's risk of dying from cancer is actually higher in developing countries than in developed ones.

Global Cancer Trends

The study, which appears in the current issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, used available data to estimate three major global cancer measures: the number of new cancer cases, the number of cancer deaths, and the number of persons alive with the disease.

They found that the risk of being diagnosed with cancer is highest in North America. But the risk of dying from cancer is greatest among Eastern European men and among women in East Africa and Northern Europe.

Other major findings include:

—China accounts for 20 percent of the world's total of new cancer cases (2.2 million).

—North America’s 1.6 million new cancer cases account for 14.5 percent of the world's total.

—In general, survival rates are better in developed countries, with the exception of Eastern Europe, which lags behind South America for most types of cancer.

—Lung cancer accounted for 1.35 million new cases (12.4 percent of world total) and 1.18 million deaths (17.6 percent of world total) in 2002. Almost half of lung cancer cases occur in developing countries, which marks a major change since 1980, when 69 percent were in developed countries The highest lung cancer rates are among North American and European (especially Eastern European) men.

—Although it is the most common cancer in men worldwide, lung cancer is second to prostate cancer in frequency in developed countries.

—Breast cancer is by far the most frequent cancer in women and accounts for 23 percent of all cancers. Breast cancer rates are highest in North America.

—Due to its high frequency and better prognosis than some other cancers, there are more breast cancer survivors at any time than any other type of cancer survivor. There are an estimated 4.4 million women alive who have had the disease diagnosed within the last five years, compared with 1.4 million survivors (men and women) from lung cancer.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Parkin, M. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians; March/April 2005; vol 55: pp 74-108. News release, American Cancer Society.