Cancer is the world's top "economic killer" as well as its likely leading cause of death, the American Cancer Society contends in a new report it will present at a global cancer conference in China this week.
Cancer costs more in productivity and lost life than AIDS, malaria, the flu and other diseases that spread person-to-person, the report concludes.
Chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes account for more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide but less than 3 percent of public and private funding for global health, said Rachel Nugent of the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based policy research group.
Money shouldn't be taken away from fighting diseases that spread person-to-person, but the amount devoted to cancer is way out of whack with the impact it has, said Dr. Otis Brawley, the cancer society's chief medical officer.
Cancer's economic toll was $895 billion in 2008 -- equivalent to 1.5 percent of the world's gross domestic product, the report says. That's in terms of disability and years of life lost -- not the cost of treating the disease, which wasn't addressed in the report.
The World Health Organization has long predicted that cancer would overtake heart disease this year as the leading cause of death. About 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2008, and about 12.4 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
Tobacco use and obesity are fueling a rise in chronic diseases, while vaccines and better treatments have led to drops in some infectious diseases.
Many groups have been pushing for more attention to non-infectious causes of death, and the United Nations General Assembly has set a meeting on this a year from now. Some policy experts are comparing it to the global initiative that led to big increases in spending on AIDS nearly a decade ago.
"This needs to be discussed at the UN -- how we are going to deal with this" rising burden of chronic disease, said Dr. Andreas Ullrich, medical officer for cancer control at WHO.