Comparing more and less developed countries

How cancer rates vary across countries at different stages of development

On this page you can find out about differences in age-standardised rates of cancer between more and less developed countries.

The Human Development Index (HDI) measures average achievement in three key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The health dimension is assessed by life expectancy at birth, the education dimension is measured by mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children of school entering age. The standard of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita. The scores for the three indices are then aggregated into a composite index. The HDI simplifies and captures only part of what human development entails. It does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, etc. More information on the HDI can be found here (pdf).

Overall, the age-standardised cancer rate (including non-melanoma skin cancer) is higher in more developed countries. There were 296 cases of cancer diagnosed per 100,000 in more developed regions, compared with 115 in less developed regions in 2018.

Age-standardised rates are used in the tables. This is a summary measure of the rate of disease that a population would have if it had a standard age structure. Standardisation is necessary when comparing populations that differ with respect to age because age has a powerful influence on the risk of dying from cancer.

Both sexes

  • The rate for all cancers (including non-melanoma skin cancer) was 2.5 times higher in countries with a very high Human Development Index (HDI) compared with countries with a low HDI.
  • The rates of most cancers are higher in countries with a very high HDI.
Age-standardised rate per 100,000
CancerWorldVery high HDI countriesLow HDI countries
Breast46.375.232.8
Prostate29.361.126.1
Lung22.530.03.0
Cervix uteri13.19.429.8
Colon11.518.93.5
Stomach11.110.44.4
Non-melanoma skin10.124.72.6
Liver9.36.96.0
Corpus uteri8.415.73.1
Rectum7.710.82.8
Thyroid6.711.71.6
Ovary6.68.64.6
Oesophagus6.33.73.9
Bladder5.710.52.4
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma5.79.34.2
Leukaemia5.27.72.9
Pancreas4.87.71.8
Kidney4.59.41.1
Lip, oral cavity4.04.31.9
Brain, central nervous system3.55.01.3
Melanoma of skin3.19.90.9
Gallbladder2.32.50.5
Larynx2.02.31.1
Testis1.75.30.3
Multiple myeloma1.73.00.8
All cancers197.9296.2114.7

Men

  • The rate for all cancers (including non-melanoma skin cancer) was three times higher in more developed than less developed countries.
  • The rates of most cancers are higher in countries with a very high HDI.
Age-standardised rate per 100,000
CancerWorldVery high HDI countriesLow HDI countries
Lung31.540.43.9
Prostate29.361.126.1
Stomach15.715.05.1
Liver13.910.67.9
Non-melanoma skin13.935.62.7
Colon13.122.13.7
Rectum10.014.43.0
Bladder9.618.13.1
Oesophagus9.36.34.5
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma6.711.25.0
Leukaemia6.19.33.1
Kidney6.012.81.2
Lip, oral cavity5.86.42.2
Pancreas5.59.11.9
Brain, central nervous system3.95.81.4
Larynx3.64.21.9
Melanoma of skin3.510.70.8
Thyroid3.15.20.9
Nasopharynx2.20.81.1
Gallbladder2.22.70.4
Multiple myeloma2.13.70.9
Oropharynx1.83.20.5
Testis1.75.30.3
Hypopharynx1.61.90.3
Hodgkin lymphoma1.12.30.9
All cancers218.6335.2101.6

Women

  • The rate for all cancers (including non-melanoma skin cancer) in more developed countries is double that of less developed countries.
  • The rates of most cancers are higher in countries with a very high HDI.
  • The rates of cervical, liver and oesophageal cancer are higher in countries with a low HDI than in countries with a very high HDI.
Age-standardised rate per 100,000
CancerWorldVery high HDI countriesLow HDI countries
Breast46.375.232.8
Lung14.621.42.2
Cervix uteri13.19.429.8
Thyroid10.218.22.2
Colon10.116.23.4
Corpus uteri8.415.73.1
Stomach7.06.63.7
Non-melanoma skin7.016.32.5
Ovary6.68.64.6
Rectum5.67.62.7
Liver4.93.54.3
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma4.77.73.4
Leukaemia4.36.32.7
Pancreas4.06.51.6
Oesophagus3.51.33.4
Kidney3.16.31.1
Brain, central nervous system3.14.31.2
Melanoma of skin2.99.60.9
Gallbladder2.42.20.7
Bladder2.44.21.8
Lip, oral cavity2.32.31.7
Multiple myeloma1.42.40.8
Vulva0.91.50.9
Nasopharynx0.80.30.5
Hodgkin lymphoma0.81.80.6
All cancers182.6269.2128.4
Source: Bray F, Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Siegel RL, Torre LA, Jemal A. Global Cancer Statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin, in press. The online GLOBOCAN 2018 database is accessible at http://gco.iarc.fr/, as part of IARC’s Global Cancer Observatory.