Global demand for cancer surgery expected to double within 20 years

Rise is equal to 4.7 million procedures, with greatest burden on low-income countries

Surgeons in full surgical gear during operation. getty Images
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Global demand for cancer surgery will rise by 52 per cent within the next 20 years, according to a new study in The Lancet Oncology.

This figure is equal to 4.7 million procedures, and most worryingly the greatest relative increase in demand is expected in low-income countries.

The study says that a huge increase in the global surgical workforce will be required to contend with this jump, equating to nearly 200,000 more surgeons and 87,000 anaesthetists.

A complementary study found that cancer patients in low and middle-income countries are four times more likely to die from colorectal or gastric cancer than those in high-income countries.

The reports' authors said the findings "highlight an urgent need to improve cancer surgery provision in low and middle-income countries, while also scaling up their workforces to cope with increasing demand".

"There needs to be an increased focus on the application of cost-effective models of care, along with government endorsement of scientific evidence to mobilise resources for expanding services,” said Dr Sathira Perera, one of the scientists involved in the research, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

While neither study assessed the effects of Covid-19, the authors said that the pandemic increased the challenges of delivering high-quality post-operative care.

NHS bosses on Monday instructed hospitals in the UK to give urgent cancer care an equal footing with care for Covid patients.

The edict came after fears of an escalation of cancelled cancer treatments as Britain's medical front line battles to stem the flow of coronavirus admissions.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens on Sunday said that a Covid-19 patient was being admitted to hospital "every 30 seconds", and warned of the "extreme pressure" facing the NHS.

$6.2 trillion in global GDP could be lost by 2030 if surgical cancer systems are not improved

Despite its acute Covid crisis, the UK's position as a high-income nation inures it from some of the greatest cancer treatment challenges the global community will face in years to come.

But the authors said this is not an "us and them situation".

They cited a 2015 study published in The Lancet Oncology which estimated that "$6.2 trillion in global GDP could be lost by 2030 if surgical cancer systems are not improved".

They also highlighted the stark disparity in the task facing low-income countries.

To meet the high-income country benchmark the actual number of surgeons in low-income countries would need to increase almost 400 per cent (from 6,000 to 28,000), and anaesthetists by nearly 550 per cent (from 2,000 to 13,000), of their baseline values.

Cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death behind heart disease and stroke.

In 2018 it accounted for 9.6 million deaths, the equivalent of one in six people, the World Health Organisation said.