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Cancer is emerging as a major public health problem in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) because of population aging and growth, as well as increased prevalence of key risk factors, including those associated with social and economic transition. A high residual burden of infectious agents (HIV/ AIDS, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B virus) in certain SSA countries still drives the rates of certain cancers; about one-third of all cancers in the region are estimated to be infection-related.

In females, the numbers of cases and rates of breast and cervical cancer are almost equal and comprise 50% of the overall cancer burden in SSA. In males, cancer of the prostate dominates in terms of the number of cases (51,900 cases, 27.9% of the total estimated cases in the region), followed by liver cancer (10.6% of the total) and Kaposi sarcoma (6.6% of the total).

Breast and cervical cancer in women and prostate cancer in men are the major cancers that define the overall risk of developing and dying from cancer in SSA. Around one in 26 women will develop cervical cancer in their lifetime, and one in 40 will die from the disease. The lifetime risks for women developing breast cancer and men developing prostate cancer are very similar to those for women developing cervical cancer, but the lifetime risk of dying from either of these two cancers (approximately one in 55) is slightly less.

Text alternative: Probability of developing or dying from cancer before the age of 75 in sub-Saharan Africa, 2012 Chart showing the probability of developing or dying from cancer before the age of 75 in sub-Saharan Africa, 2012 which indicates that for many cancers, the risk of getting cancer and the risk of dying from it are nearly the same in this region

For many cancers, the risk of getting cancer and the risk of dying from it are nearly the same in Sub-Saharan Africa, because of late stage at diagnosis and lack of treatment.

Probability of developing or dying from cancer before the age of 75 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2012

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Cancer is emerging as a major public health problem in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) because of population aging and growth, as well as increased prevalence of key risk factors, including those associated with social and economic transition.

There are, however, large variations in the cancer profile in different countries, with prostate cancer dominating in men (most frequent in 23 countries), and cervical or breast cancer the most frequent in women in 28 and 19 countries respectively. In men, there are a number of countries where liver and Kaposi sarcoma are the most common cancers, in Western and Eastern regions of Africa, respectively.

Cancer control action in SSA will require measures that address the persistently high incidence of cancers associated with poverty and infection (including a residual burden of AIDS-associated cancers), in addition to emerging cancers associated with economic development.

Map of the most commonly diagnosed cancers by gender in sub-Saharan African countries
Text alternative: Most commonly diagnosed cancers in the region in 2012

The cancer profile varies across Sub-Saharan Africa, with infection-related cancers leading in many areas.

Most commonly diagnosed cancers in the region

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“We cannot afford to say, ‘We must tackle other diseases first— HIV/ AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis—then we will deal with chronic diseases.’ If we wait even 10 years, we will find that the problem is even larger and more expensive to address.”

Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria