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Ageing population contributes to high cancer deaths in SA

Early detection remains critical to reducing cancer rates in South Africa, with a recent report revealing that deaths from the disease rose from 5.6% in 2008 to 10.2% in 2019, while diagnosed cancers also increased by about 50% in that period.

The escalation is attributed to lifestyle – excessive alcohol and smoking – the high HIV statistics, ignorance and the skyrocketing costs of medical costs to receive care.

The ageing population is also a main contributor to the increase, according to the director of Health and Vital Stats at Statistics South Africa, Ramadimetja Matji, after the recent publication of the Cancer in South Africa (2008-2019) report, because the disease largely affects older age groups.

“People over 60 are at the highest risk, so while the life expectancy of those in this age group is increasing, so too is their cancer risk,” he said.

He added that the sedentary “Western lifestyle” plays an important role, with its high prevalence of smoking and alcohol, while diet – higher consumption of red and processed meats, and inadequate fruit, vegetables and fibre – is another factor, reports Health-e News.

HIV and cancer deaths

Those are also documented risk factors for other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“South Africa also has a high burden of HIV, and black women, in particular, who have the highest risk of HIV, have a critical risk of developing cervical cancer if infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV).”

According to the report, cancer-related mortality was based on 43 613 cancer deaths over the 10 years. While overall deaths in the country decreased in that time by 24.1% from 598 553 in 2008 to 454 014 in 2018, at the same time, cancer deaths increased by 29.3% from 33 720 in 2008 to 43 613.

The leading cancers among women were of the cervix, breast, lung and colorectal, accounting for 50% of cancer-related deaths.

In men, cancers contributing to most deaths were of the lung, prostate, oesophagus and colorectal.

Black Africans most affected

Most deaths from cancer were among black Africans, possibly due to poor knowledge of the signs and symptoms of cancer and poor access to screening and treatment facilities.

“They are diagnosed at advanced stages, when the chances of survival are low. It is important to look at the actual mortality rates for specific cancers to understand which population groups are at the highest risk of dying from cancer,” Matji said.

The Cancer Association of South Africa's (Cansa) head of marketing and communication, Lucy Balona, said patients with stage one and two cancers have excellent survival rates if it is detected early enough. But education is crucial to ensure early diagnosis and treatment to pursue good treatment outcomes and optimal survival rates.

“The lack of affordable, effective and quality cancer services, enabling early diagnosis, treatment and care, means patients in lower-resourced areas will often suffer and die unnecessarily,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer killed nearly 10m people in 2020 – about one in every six deaths.

Cancer in SA

Health-e News article – Role of ageing population in rise in SA cancer deaths (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


HPV vaccination campaign to fight cervical cancer in SA


SA cancer rates set to double by 2030, actuaries predict


Cancer deaths doubling, could soar to 1m in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030


Unaffordable breast cancer medicines are killing SA women


Cervical cancer survival rates determined by race in SA





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