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Skip to 0 minutes and 15 seconds SPEAKER: Cancer is a major global health problem. In many countries across the globe, the rates of cancer are increasing. Despite advances in treatment and increasing survival rates, around 12 million people die each year globally from cancer. In the UK, COUK have predicted that up to one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. So what is behind this increase? It wasn’t always like this. Well, cancer has been recognised as a disease for millennia. In fact, it is thought the first description of the disease is in ancient Egyptian papyruses. But generally speaking, cancer is not mentioned very prominently in old texts compared to other diseases. So why is that?

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Well, the reason is that people were too busy dying of infectious diseases for cancer to be a massive problem. For example, the plague, polio, influenza, and smallpox were all big killers, and there was also much higher mortality in childbirth. Of course, nowadays, we have a much better handle on these areas with advances in disease prevention and also in hygiene. A second related reason is to do with when we get cancer. If we look at the rates of cancer in the UK, we find that initially, we start off very low in young people, but the rate climbs steadily after you’re about 40 years old. And interestingly, the life expectancy in Victorian England was around 40.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds And so you can see from this that many people would have died before they developed cancer. However, nowadays, our life expectancy is much higher, meaning that many more of us are living to the age of which we’re much more likely to get cancer. So as life expectancy in many populations continues to rise across the globe due to advances in health care and control of infectious disease, so does the rate of cancer.

Cancer – a growing problem

Your task: watch the video above in which Professor Ben Willcox considers why the rates of cancer seem to be increasing across the world.

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This video is from the free online course:

Cancer Immunotherapy: a Step Change in Cancer Treatment

University of Birmingham