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Vital Stories

Tackling the World’s Most Diagnosed Cancer

Vital Strategies

Breast cancer knows no geographic boundaries. As the United States marks National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re reminded that female breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. An estimated 2.3 million new cases were identified in 2020 alone

Vital Strategies’ Cancer Registries program, part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative, partners with ministries of health to understand and respond to the burden of prevailing cancers in their country. Monitoring the occurrences of new cancer diagnoses, the stage of cancer at diagnosis and survival rates provides critical information on the priorities and performance of a country’s health care system. Population-based cancer registries are designed to identify all cases of cancer that occur in a defined population—data that can be used to inform public health policy. 

Through this kind of public health surveillance, governments are armed with knowledge to make informed decisions on strategies for prevention, early detection, clinical management and palliative care for people living with cancer. To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve outlined facts and figures about the global breast cancer burden and how countries within the Cancer Registries program are building the foundations for cancer control.  

In 2020, female breast cancer became the most diagnosed cancer.

In 2020, breast cancer surpassed lung cancer for the first time as the most commonly diagnosed cancer. An estimated 2.3 million new cases were diagnosed, or 11.7% of all cancer diagnoses that year.  

Among women, breast cancer accounts for 1 in 4 cancer cases and  1 in 6 cancer deaths.

Breast cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide. Among women, it leads as the most common type of cancer incidence across most of the globe (in 159 of 185 countries) as well as for cancer mortality (in 110 countries).  

Cancer registries work! Some of the important findings from our partners include: 

Between 2017 and 2020, breast cancer was the second most prevalent cancer among women in Mwanza, Tanzania.

The Mwanza population-based cancer registry in Tanzania , established in 2016, records all cases of cancer among 1.4 million people. Between 2017 and 2020, the Mwanza registry found the leading cancers in females were cervical, breast and lymphoma; for males, the most prevalent were in the prostate, the esophagus and lymphoma. The data informs cancer control planning, is used in monitoring intervention programs and supports the work of policymakers, researchers, clinicians, non-governmental organization and other stakeholders.  

Breast cancer is by far the most diagnosed cancer in Sri Lanka.

Last year in Sri Lanka, breast cancer accounted for 13.4% of all new cancer cases and 25.7% of new cases in females. As part of the Cancer Registries program, Sri Lanka is working to establish and manage population-based cancer registries and improve their functionality at hospital registry locations. With this information in hand, the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health can strengthen data analysis and capacity for producing and disseminating cancer registry reports—critical inputs for evidence-based health policy.  

Breast cancer represents more than a quarter of all cancer cases faced by women in Viet Nam. 

Breast cancer accounts for the highest proportion of new cases among women (25.8%) and the most prevalent cancer in Viet Nam overall. Doubling down on data quality, the Vietnamese National Cancer Institute, K-Hospital and the General Department of Preventative Medicine are building out a strategic plan for population-based cancer registries across the country and establishing a quality assurance process and protocols for producing and disseminating cancer surveillance reports. Complementing these initiatives is an investment in human resources via a training and mentoring program for registry personnel. 

To learn more about Vital Strategies Cancer Registries Program, please visit and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat

The Data for Health Initiative is a global effort supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It provides technical assistance to low- and middle-income countries worldwide to improve public health data systems at the national level, including improving civil registration and vital statistics systems, maximizing the use of data to enhance public health policymaking and decision-making, establishing and strengthening national cancer registries and more. Vital Strategies serves as an implementing partner.