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There were an estimated 1.8 million new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in 2012 (13% of all new cancer cases), 58% of which occurred in less-developed regions. It is the most common cancer in men worldwide (1.2 million, 16.7% of all cases), with the highest estimated age-standardized incidence rates in Central and Eastern Europe (53.5 per 100,000) and Eastern Asia (50.4 per 100,000). Notably low incidence rates are observed in Middle and Western Africa (2.0 and 1.7 per 100,000, respectively). In women, the incidence rates are generally lower and the geographical pattern is a little different, reflecting varied historical patterns of tobacco use. Thus, the highest estimated rates are in Northern America (33.8) and Northern Europe (23.7), with a relatively high rate in Eastern Asia (19.2), and the lowest rates again in Western and Middle Africa (1.1 and 0.8 respectively).

Because survival from lung cancer varies little by region, global patterns of lung cancer mortality mirror those of incidence.

Estimated new lung cancer cases and percentage of new cases by region, 2012

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Chart showing estimated new lung cancer cases and percentage of new cases by region, 2012

In several countries, lung cancer is one of the most important forms of cancer, and much of the lung cancer burden could be reduced through tobacco control.

Lung cancer is responsible for nearly one in five cancer deaths worldwide (1.6 million deaths, 19.4% of all cancer deaths) and is the leading cause of cancer death in men in 87 countries and in women in 26 countries. Because of its high fatality (the overall ratio of mortality to incidence is 0.87) and the relative lack of variability in survival in different world regions, the geographical patterns in mortality closely follow those in incidence, irrespective of level of resources in a given country.

Recent trends in lung cancer reflect historical patterns of tobacco smoking. In men, incidence rates have peaked and are now falling in several highly-developed countries, consistent with the initial adoption and subsequent decline in smoking some decades earlier. In most of these same countries, rates continue to rise among women as there has been no decline in smoking similar to that in men. However, in a few countries where smoking prevalence in women has been declining for several decades (notably in the USA), there are recent downward incidence trends.

Lung cancer incidence trends vary by sex due to differing smoking trends.

Age-standardized incidence rates (world) per 100,000 for select countries, 1975-2011

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Graphs showing age-standardized lung cancer incidence rates (world) per 100,000 for select countries, 1975-2011

Much of the burden could be prevented through tobacco control. Tobacco control policies (including increasing tobacco taxes and implementing smoke-free laws) are key to the prevention of lung cancer.