A new report shows Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the number one killer according to the World Health Organisation.

A new global scientific report released for World Cancer Day on 4 February shows that cancer is the biggest cause of mortality worldwide, responsible for 8.2 million deaths per year and rising.

The World Cancer Report also predicts cancer incidence will increase by 75 per cent over the next two decades, exceeding 20 million new cases a year in 2025.

The report was compiled by UN Agency, The Intenternational Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and pushes towards getting governments around the world to stop the millions of predicted, needless and premature deaths caused by cancer by developing, and implementing a national plan which includes proven preventive and early detection measures.

Director of IARC Dr Christopher Wild says the rise of cancer worldwide is a major obstacle to human development and wellbeing.

“These new figures and projections send a strong signal that immediate action is needed to confront this human disaster, which touches every community worldwide, without exception,” Dr Wild says.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift says the prevalence of cancer could give way to the rise of misinformation and myths about cancer prevention, early detection and a cure.

To help Australians sort cancer fact from fiction, Cancer Council has created a mobile app for its ‘iheard’ website.

“Don’t believe everything you read, make sure you get the right advice from trusted sources.

“Questions about sunscreen nanoparticles, whether processed meat causes cancer, and even medical discoveries like the Gardasil vaccination are all answered and explained at iheard.com.au.

She says myths and misinformation about cancer often spread on the internet and can distract people from doing the basic, proven things that will reduce their risk.

World Cancer Day focused on “debunk the myths”, with four main messages:
1. We don’t need to talk about cancer
2. There are no signs or symptoms of cancer
3. There is nothing I can do about cancer
4. I don’t have the right to cancer care

Ms Clift says Australia has one of the world’s highest cancer incidence rates, third only behind Denmark and France and it’s largely due to our ageing population. 

“Unfortunately cancer is a disease that is more likely to affect us later in life, so the longer Australians live, the more cancer cases we will see.

“Extended life expectancy in the developing world is also increasing cancer rates globally. Unfortunately, developing countries are also adopting the worst of our Western lifestyle, such as smoking, poor diet and inactivity, which is significantly contributing to global cancer prevalence,” she says.

The Heart Foundation’s National Director of Cardiovascular Health Dr Rob Grenfell says although reports point to cancer overtaking heart disease as the number one killer globally, both cancers and cardiovascular diseases have common risk factors.

“It’s not about which disease is the biggest killer – we have two very large disease groups that together cause six in 10 deaths.

“As a group of diseases, cancers and cardiovascular diseases are attributable to 60 per cent of the country’s deaths and both are largely preventable,” Dr Grenfell says.

Dr Grenfell says if Australia were to have a coordinated approach to the management of these risk factors we would reduce the prevalence of preventable deaths.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Ms Clift agrees, stating the message is simple – lower your cancer risk, quit smoking, eat healthily, participate in recommended screenings, be active, avoid harmful UV radiation and limit your alcohol consumption.


  • 8.2 million deaths from cancer in 2012
  • Lung, liver, stomach, colorectal and breast cancers have the highest mortality
  • High body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use are the five leading behavioral and dietary risks
  • Tobacco use is the biggest cancer risk factor, with 20 per cent of global cancer deaths and 70 per cent of global lung cancer deaths
  • Africa, Asia and Central and South America account for 70 per cent of the world’s cancer deaths.
  • It is expected that annual cancer cases will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million within the next two decades.