Cancer cases projected to rise 40% in 15 years as population ages, grows

New cancer cases are expected to increase by about 40 per cent by 2030 as the population ages and grows, the Canadian Cancer Society says.

About half of cancer cases can be prevented with healthy behaviours and policies

Lyle Southam adopted healthier eating patterns after his colon cancer diagnosis. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

New cancer cases are expected to increase by about 40 per cent by 2030 as the population ages and grows, the Canadian Cancer Society says.

The society released its annual cancer statistics on Wednesday to provide long-term predictions on the burden of the disease. An estimated 277,000 people a year will be diagnosed with cancer by 2030. 

"We are going to have a dramatic increase in the number of Canadians who are being diagnosed with cancer," said Robert Nuttall, the cancer society's assistant director for cancer control in Toronto. "This is really a reflection of our aging and growing population."

About 89 per cent of all new cases are diagnosed among Canadians over the age of 50, the stage of life the baby boomer generation is entering.

Tobacco control strategies and nutrition information help to increase awareness and make cancer prevention easier, says Robert Nuttall. (CBC)

"We need to start planning now to meet the needs of people who will be diagnosed with cancer in the future," Nuttall said. "People diagnosed with cancer require supports and services. They're going to need access to doctors and nurses and diagnostics and treatment facilities. We're going to have to look at the entire cancer control and care that we're doing right now."

Risk of cancer largely the same

In contrast, age-standardized incidence rates, an indicator of individual risk, will not change substantially. Since 2001, the age-adjusted cancer incidence rate for males is declining (0.7 per cent per year) but still increasing in females (0.5 per cent per year).

The society estimated overall there will be 196,900 new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2015. About half will be for prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancers.

About half of cancer cases can be prevented with healthy behaviours and policies, Nuttall said. 

To reduce cancer risk, the society advises:

  • If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. It's estimated that smoking is responsible for 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada and is related to more than 85 per cent of lung cancer cases.
  • Get screened. The society estimates if 80 per cent of Canadians aged 50 and older were screened for colorectal cancer, it could save 40,000 lives over the next 15 years. There are also screening programs for breast and cervical cancer.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV. This virus is linked with cervical cancer as well as cancers of the penis, anus, vulva, vagina, oral cavity and throat.
  • Eat well and be active. About one-third of all cancers can be prevented with diet and exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Practice sun safety and don't use indoor tanning. Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer and is mostly preventable.

Lyle Southam, 64, of Misssissauga, Ont., had a section of his colon removed for late stage cancer followed by chemotherapy and followup tests. He's been clear for more than 18 months .

Lucky to be alive

Southam said when he heard there's a 65 per cent chance of living five years after the surgery, he thought about how he could improve the odds. He's enrolled in a study to look at whether exercise helps reduce recurrence of colon cancer.

"I do a lot of work on the road. Cheeseburgers were a staple for me. Now it's salads and all kinds of healthy stuff."

The former smoker no longer skips breakfast and favours fruit. 

 His advice?

"Rather than tell them what I not only think but probably know they should or shouldn't do, I'll tell them what I used to do and now what I do and the fact that I'm so damn lucky to be alive and it's because of the things I've changed in my life."

Smoking continues to be an overwhelming risk factor for cancer, said Dr. Malcolm Moore, an oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

"I think one of the challenges is that the effects of smoking are not immediate in terms of cancer — it is 25 to 30 years later. In some sense, people may not necessarily see the consequences of their action," Moore said.

Similarly with melanoma, the effects of chronic sun exposure occur later in life and younger people may feel invulnerable, Moore said.

While tobacco control strategies have been successful, Nuttall suggested upcoming nutrition label changes could help people to understand serving sizes and calories levels and offer another tool to increase awareness and make prevention easier.

The report is released in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada.

The annual number of new cancer diagnoses in Canada will increase by 40 per cent by 2030, the Canadian Cancer Society predicted in a report released Wednesday. (Canadian Press)

With files from CBC's Christine Birak