If an interviewer asked "people on the street" what they thought was the greatest threat to worldwide health, the answers would most likely be "AIDS", "Malaria", "Flu", or another infectious disease. I would have given a similar response.
Surprisingly, the answer is - "cancer".
At a global cancer conference being held in China this week, the American Cancer Society presented new findings about cancer: not about treatments, cure rates, or research, but that cancer is now the world's leading cause of death, and literally costs more than any other disease in terms of disability and years of life lost.
A staggering $895 billion was attributed to cancer's economic cost for 2008 - this is roughly 1.5% of the entire world's GDP (gross domestic product). And, this is only the figure linked to disability and life-years lost to the disease. The costs of treatment, which are not included here, are also astronomical, and will only increase in the coming years.
The World Health Organization has estimated that cancer would replace heart disease as the leading cause of death this year. In 2008, 7.6 million people worldwide died of cancer, and each year, 12.4 million new cases are diagnosed.
This is an impending world health crisis of unimaginable proportions. Some are now comparing it to the global crisis leading to increased spending on AIDS in the early 1990s. The current 3% of public and private funding dedicated to global health must be greatly increased if we are to have any hope in turning the tide against cancer.