Cancer is among the leading causes of death in the world, accounting for over nine million mortalities in 2020. With a forecasted growth rate of 64 percent between 2020 and 2040, this disease is expected to continuously burden global public health in the following years. In Latin America, on average 171 new cancer cases and approximately 85 cancer deaths per 100,000 inhabitants were estimated to have occurred in 2020, a year of extreme pressure for health care systems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do cancer patients belong to the high-risk group for severe COVID-19 illnesses, but the availability of cancer-related services has also been affected by the health crisis. The number of chemotherapies, for instance, decreased between two percent and 54 percent in Latin America, according to a survey carried out in May 2020.
Consumer behavior: a cancer determinant
Numerous underlying factors can be identified as contributing to the rise of cancer in Latin America. Disordered eating habits, especially those leading people to be overweight and obese are proven and preventable risk factors for cancer. Such conditions represent a major health risk in the region, where in several countries more than half of the population is considered to be overweight. Additionally, alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of several cancer types, such as breast cancer. In 2020, Argentina was ranked as the leading alcohol consumer in Latin America, with more than 8.2 liters of pure alcohol consumed per person that year. However, many other countries with higher cancer prevalence rates are not far behind. People in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Peru, for instance, all drank more than five liters of pure alcohol in 2020.
Even though cancer mortality rates may greatly vary depending on their type and severity, average death rates due to this disease have been decreasing over the last decade in Latin America and the Caribbean. One of the main reasons for this is medical technology advances and a broader usage of new equipment in cancer detection and treatment. Still, the Latin American region lags behind in the adoption of such technological developments. For example, a small percentage of hospitals in Chile reportedly use radiotherapy equipment, and even fewer hospitals in Mexico use mammography systems. Furthermore, the usage rate of vacuum-assisted breast biopsy systems for early breast cancer detection in Colombian hospitals stands at only one percent. Latin America’s health care system must therefore increase its adoption of such medical technologies in order to continue and improve on the strenuous fight against cancer in the region.
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