by Mona Jhaveri - March 29, 2022

In 2020, there were an estimated 19.2 million people diagnosed with cancer worldwide. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in most corners of the world, with approximately 9.9 million people dying of some form of this disease in the same year. The global burden of cancer is undeniably heavy.

The five most common types of cancers in both sexes worldwide are:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stomach cancer

However, cancer incidence and survival rates vary greatly from continent to continent. Due to many factors, including diet, lifestyle, and environmental exposures, different types of cancer are more prevalent in certain regions of the world.

This blog post will look at the statistics for cancer in males, females, and all cancers combined on each of the six populated continents.

All statistics have been collected from the GLOBOCAN (Global Cancer Observatory) cancer registry platform.

The difference in cancer rates by continent

In this section, we will break down the five most commonly diagnosed cancers in males and females and all cancers combined, on each of the six continents.

Because of the differences in population size, the numbers of new cases are presented as percentages of the total population diagnosed with cancer in the given year.

Africa

In 2020 – 1.1 million people were diagnosed with cancer in Africa.

The five most common types of cancer in Africa for both sexes in all ages are:

  • Breast cancer (16.8% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Cervix uteri – cervical cancer (10.6%)
  • Prostate cancer (8.4%)
  • Liver cancer (6.4%)
  • Colorectal cancer (6.0%)

Out of the 1.1 million people diagnosed with cancer in 2020, approximately 633,000 were female. The five most common cancers in African females are:

  • Breast cancer (29.5% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Cervix uteri – cervical cancer (18.5%)
  • Colorectal cancer (5.1%)
  • Liver cancer (4.0%)
  • Ovarian cancer (3.8%)

In regards to males, an estimated total of 475,000 were diagnosed with cancer in Africa in 2020. The five most common cancers are:

  • Prostate cancer (19.6% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Liver cancer (9.5%)
  • Colorectal cancer (7.2%)
  • Lung cancer (7.0%)
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (5.9%)

Asia

In 2020, Asia saw 9.5 million people diagnosed with cancer, making it the region with the most new cancer cases in the world.

The five most common cancers for both sexes in all ages are:

  • Lung cancer (13.8% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Breast cancer (10.8%)
  • Colorectal cancer (10.6%)
  • Stomach cancer (8.6%)
  • Liver cancer (6.9%)

4.4 million of newly diagnosed patients were female. The five most common cancers in Asian females are:

  • Breast cancer (22.9% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Colorectal cancer (9.7%)
  • Lung cancer (9.4%)
  • Cervix uteri – cervical cancer (7.8%)
  • Thyroid cancer (5.9%)

Looking at the male population, a little over 5 million men were diagnosed with cancer in Asia in 2020. The five most common cancers in this population are:

  • Lung cancer (17.8% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Colorectal cancer (11.5%)
  • Stomach cancer (11.1%)
  • Liver cancer (9.4%)
  • Prostate cancer (7.4%)

Europe

The total number of people diagnosed with cancer in Europe in 2020 is estimated to be around 4.3 million.

The five most common cancers for both sexes are:

  • Breast cancer (12.1% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Colorectal cancer (11.8%)
  • Lung cancer (10.9%)
  • Prostate cancer (10.8%)
  • Bladder cancer (4.6%)

Out of the 4.3 million people diagnosed with cancer in 2020, approximately 2 million were female. The five most common cancers in European females are:

  • Breast cancer (25.8% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Colorectal cancer (11.6%)
  • Lung cancer (7.9%)
  • Corpus uteri – uterine cancer (6.3%)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (3.6%)

When it comes to males, there were slightly over 2.3 million diagnosed with cancer in Europe in 2020. The five most common cancers are:

  • Prostate cancer (20.2% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Lung cancer (13.5%)
  • Colorectal cancer (12%)
  • Bladder cancer (6.7%)
  • Kidney cancer (3.7%)

Latin America and the Caribbean

An estimated 1.4 million people were diagnosed with cancer in Central and South America and the Caribbean in 2020.

The five most common cancers for both sexes in all ages are:

  • Prostate cancer (14.6% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Breast cancer (14.3%)
  • Colorectal cancer (9.2%)
  • Lung cancer (6.6%)
  • Stomach cancer (4.6%)

The number of newly diagnosed females is estimated to be around 750,000. The five most common cancers in Latin American females are:

  • Breast cancer (28% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Colorectal cancer (9.0%)
  • Cervix uteri – cervical cancer (7.9%)
  • Thyroid cancer (6.9%)
  • Lung cancer (5.4%)

In comparison, the number of males newly diagnosed with cancer in Latin America and the Caribbean is around 720,000. The five most common cancers are:

  • Prostate cancer (29.8% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Colorectal cancer (9.3%)
  • Lung cancer (8.0%)
  • Stomach cancer (5.6%)
  • Bladder cancer (3.4%)

North America

In 2020, an estimated 2.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer in Northern America.

The five most common cancers for both sexes in all ages are:

  • Breast cancer (11% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Lung cancer (9.9%)
  • Prostate cancer (9.4%)
  • Colorectal cancer (7.1%)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (4.1%)

The female population was estimated to have around 1.1 million new cases of cancer. The five most common cancers in North American females are:

  • Breast cancer (23.8% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Lung cancer (10.5%)
  • Colorectal cancer (7.2%)
  • Corpus uteri – uterine cancer (5.8%)
  • Thyroid cancer (3.9%)

The number of males newly diagnosed with cancer is around 1.3 million. The five most common cancers in North American males are:

  • Prostate cancer (17.5% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Lung cancer (9.4%)
  • Colorectal cancer (6.9%)
  • Bladder cancer (5.0%)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (4.5%)

Oceania

The last continent on our list, Oceania, has an estimated total of 254,000 people diagnosed with cancer in 2020.

For both sexes in all ages, the five most common cancer diagnoses are:

  • Breast cancer (10.2% of the total number of diagnosed patients)
  • Prostate cancer (8.8%)
  • Colorectal cancer (8.1%)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (7.6%)
  • Lung cancer (6.7%)

The number of females newly diagnosed with cancer is estimated to be around 117,000. Among females of all ages in Oceania, the five most common cancers are:

  • Breast cancer (22.0% of the total number of diagnosed females)
  • Colorectal cancer (8.1%)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (6.9%)
  • Lung cancer (6.5%)
  • Corpus uteri – uterine cancer (3.7%)

Finally, when it comes to males, there were an estimated 136,000 newly diagnosed cancers in 2020. The five most common cancers for Oceania males of all ages are:

  • Prostate cancer (16.4% of the total number of diagnosed males)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (8.2%)
  • Colorectal cancer (8.1%)
  • Lung cancer (6.8%)
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (3.2%)

Why these statistics vary from continent to continent

Reasons for varied statistics based on cancer type across the six inhabited continents are many and complex.

One of the most significant factors is access to healthcare. In areas where citizens do not have good or regular access to quality cancer screenings, diagnosis rates will be lower than in regions with better healthcare systems. It is a well-known fact that countries with a high HDI (Human Development Index, measured by factors such as life expectancy, education levels, and standard of living) have higher cancer incidence and also survival rates compared to countries with a low HDI. Not only do they offer better access to cancer screenings, but they also provide more high-quality education on common cancer risk factors and cancer prevention advice.

Of course, even on one continent, there can be vast disparities in world cancer rates based on socio-economic status, race, and other factors.

In addition, cultural differences also play a role in cancer prevalence. For example, in countries where women have less exposure to the sun (such as Japan), melanoma skin cancer rates are lower than in regions where people spend more time outdoors (such as Australia).

Conclusion

Ultimately, understanding the complex web of variables that leads to differences in cancer incidence and mortality is daunting. But by highlighting some of the key factors involved, we can begin to see the global landscape of cancer in a more nuanced way.

By gathering and analyzing information about cancer statistics on a continent-by-continent basis, we can develop targeted prevention and treatment strategies that will save lives and possibly ease the global cancer burden a little bit.

Join us in our fight against cancer – donate now to cancer-fighting campaigns that are crucial for improving global cancer outcomes.

Share this: