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Analyze the Main Causes of Cancer in the Developing World

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Analyze the main causes of cancer in the developing world.


Cancer has becoming a main reason of death throughout the world, especially for developing countries with poor conditions which do not have a complete health system. Furthermore, it also causes the highest economic loss among all diseases. It has been reported by the American Cancer Society and LiveStrong (2010) that approximately 7.6 million mortality of cancer was reckoned and an economic loss of $895 billion was taken by it universally in 2008. In addition, it is projected that the aggregate amount of cases of cancer in developing countries will rise by 73% within 2000 and 2020. (International Journal for Equity in Health, 2005) These shows cancer is a disease bringing out a huge burden to the society. This is unaffordable if this situation remains. Below are causes of cancer in economic, environmental, social and personal aspect respectively.


There are mainly two economic factors leading to cancer. The first reason is the poverty problem of countries. It is reported by Marmot, M. (2005) that poverty is harmful to health since it mainly leads to the problems of having unclean water and unhealthy diet of these places. Especially for developing nations, an enormous number of children died annually due to the lack of clean water and sufficient hygiene. (INCTR, 2013) In addition, it has been reported by INCTR (2013) that governments are not willing to invest and provide funds in the health field. In extreme case, only less than 10% of overall government spending is used on the health care level. Thus, citizens have poor health care welfare and result in the vicious cycle of poor well-being. Additionally, INCTR (2013)states that drug cost increased hugely by distributors adding heavy duties and taxes on it, though generic drugs are produced locally in developing countries at very low cost. Drugs became expensive and gives rise to the problem of unaffordable drugs to impoverished people. As a result, citizens are not able to fight against cancer because they do not have a well living environment, well medical services, and cannot pay for the medicines to treat their diseases.

The second cause is the shortage of resources in health care in both human and material side. (INCTR, 2013) For human resources, there are too many patients versus limited workforces. Insufficient health care providers are due to mal-distributed in jobs, particularly in rural areas, where health care services are poorly constructed and organized. Also, health workers and clinicians of these countries are unprofessional trained in cancer care that results in excessive number of medical malpractice such as misdiagnosis, loss of clinical samples, and slow progress in treatments. Furthermore, these countries usually encounter the problem of brain drain. Many health professionals are fervently employed by rich countries as these countries offer training scholarship to developing countries seems to improve the labor force but mostly of the follower never back home in the end. For material resources, they do not have enough machines to perform favorable treatments because of high facility cost. According to INCTR (2013), the half world is sharing only 15% of all radiation therapy machines. This implies the high risk of having limited machines’ maintenance and antiqued chemical sources. Therefore, patient in poor nations keep having small access to health care since the health care system in developing nations are totally incomplete.


Apart from the unhealthy living habits, the environmental effect is also one of the factors contributing to the increasing incidence of cancer. Up to now, the most urgent and severe problem related to the environment is environmental pollution. Based on a survey of 30 cities and 78 countries in China (Ministry of Health, 2007, quoted in Brown, 2008), there is a tendency of rising cancer incidence. For example, Jiangsu Province, referred to as “Cancer Village”, possesses only 5 percent of China’s population but 12 percent of the cancer deaths. This phenomenon can be partly resulted from pouring the untreated factory waste into rivers directly. It is estimated that a river in this province contains more than 93 various carcinogens (Brown, 2008). If effective measures are not taken timely to improve the environmental quality, this catastrophe will ultimately develop into a crisis.
According to a research conducted by the University of California and the Boston Medical Center, air and water pollution is to blame for the causes of cancer as 37 forms of this disease are linked to pollutants (Brown, 2008). Among these different kinds of cancers, lung cancer has been the most destructive one. Although it is clear that smoking contributes most to lung cancer, environmental factors which explain 31 percent of the global disease burden of lung cancer cannot be neglected. These factors cover outdoor air contamination, indoor smoke dust from solid fuels, environmental tobacco smoke and exposure to ionizing radiation and other chemicals (Prüss-Üstün & Corvalán, 2006).

Another neoplasm closely related to environmental issues is stomach cancer, especially in developing countries. Accompany with poor hygiene conditions and overpopulation, Helicobacter Pylori has a perfect environment to grow, reproduce and transmit resulting in the increasing number of people with stomach cancer. Other risk substances, such as aflatoxin in food and asbestos in drinking water, have also been tightly connected with other different types of cancers (Prüss-Üstün & Corvalán, 2006).

Although it is explicit that environmental pollution has an enormous impact on the causes of cancer, it still lacks a complete response program to solve this problem. For example, China, which has seen an economic take-off in recent years, actually becomes more morbid. Unlike Chinese traditional culture to concentrate on harmony between man and nature, Chinese have an unhealthy tendency to seek material enjoyment at any cost. As a result, environment becomes the victim which will in turn do harm to people’s health. At the same time, Chinese government has not introduced any powerful rules or regulations to control environmental pollution except for some pronouncements. In addition, the number of staff in China’s Environmental Protection Administration is no more than 300 and all of them are sited in Beijing comparing with 17,000 employees working in all over the U. S. It can be mainly concluded reasons from that disparity why environment of China is polluted so severely. Therefore, changes and improvements in policies related to environment pollution are in urgent need (Brown, 2008).

Having considered the economic and environment factors, there are some social causes leading to the serious condition of cancer. First of all, racial and ethnic disparities in health care are a severe factor. According to Alan Nelson (2002), health care providers are considered as a major source. Another point is that health care plan manager is a source that cannot be neglected. The third of it is patients’ attitudes. Alan Nelson (2002) and his team state that ‘the minority patients’ refusal rates of treatment are higher than the whites’. The differences in refusal rate, however, are significantly small. For this reason, the health care disparities could not be explained entirely by this factor. Unfair educations, causations that lead to the increasing rate of cancer, which still exists between the minority people and the whites in recent years, also result in the present situation. Consequently, the unknown of the cancer and how to participate in the treatment of cancer contribute to the circumstance.

A further factor is the limited government funds. It is reported by WHO that sub-Saharan Africa, which has 11% of the world’s population and 25% of the global burden of disease, only accounts for less than 1% of global health expenditure. However, America, which has 14% of the worlds’ population and 10% of the global burden of disease, accounts for more than 50% of the global health expenditure. This indicates the differences in health expenditure between developing and developed countries. Apparently, the more funds that government spends on the health, the better health people will have. These problems showed above exacerbate the serious circumstance of cancer.

What is more, policy factors also need to be taken into account. Tobacco policy is a reason why cancer remains such a serious problem in many countries. World Health Organization (WHO)(2008) states that tobacco is such a cold killer that kills approximately 5.4 million people by lung cancer. Without suspicion, tobacco is the world’s prime killer. Not only smokers’ health will be influenced, but also the second-hand smoker. There are 3400 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year because of the second-hand smoke. (WHO, 2008) Apparently, it is important for government to control the using of tobacco.

Unfortunately, though the disadvantages of tobacco are clearly known by the public, many countries take few measures to control it because of the high taxes from tobacco. As WHO (2008) reports, tobacco tax revenues are 500 times higher than tobacco control spending. If these countries advance the policy of tobacco control, the serious circumstance of cancer must be able to improve.


Personal habits are one of the reasons for cancer, including unhealthy lifestyle and huge consumption of tobacco and alcohol. As for the unhealthy lifestyle, the attention should be paid to working conditions and unhealthy eating habits. Increased workplace-related stress leads to high risk of deadly disease. The working safety and healthy environment can prevent people from being exposed to that.

According to Caruso et al (2006), long working hour can also contribute to sleep deprivation. For a long period of time, it can even increase the risk of cancer. Meanwhile, better working environment and suitable duration of working hour are directly related to the incident rate of cancer. On the other hand, unwholesome eating habits also have harmful influence to cancer. Many researchers point out that increased consumption of fast food, processed foods, and soft drinks lead to the increasing number of cancer. (Johnson, 2011)

Unhealthy lifestyle is not the only reason of casing a large amount of cancer cases. The use of tobacco and alcohol are another part of reason for the deadly disease. Abuse of tobacco increases the number of cancer patients. While smoking is in forms of smokeless and smoking forms. They contain kinds of carcinogenic compounds. It has been estimated that smoking caused about 71% of lung cancer deaths. (World Health Organization, 2010) What is more, the nicotine not only does harm to the smokers themselves, but also has impact on non-smoker. For example, in the United States, there has 3400 clients died from carcinoma of lungs annually only because of the second-hand smoke. (British Medical Journal, 1998) While comparing to the tobacco, the huge use of alcohol also contributes to the high level of the disease. According to WHO( 2010), harmful drinking was responsible for 2.3million deaths in the world in 2004. More than half of them are died because of it. In addition, among the oral cancer patients 68% were alcohol users (Assunta, 2006). In brief, there is a direct relationship between higher level of tobacco and alcohol consumption and rising risk of cancer. After all, personal habits have a significant influence on cancer.

In conclusion, economic, environment, personal and social factors contributed to the increasing morbidity of cancer in developing countries. For economic, poverty and imperfect health care system are the main causes of cancer that residents usually face the problem of unaffordable drugs and insufficient professionals in health care field. They do not have the chances of having favorable services and effective medicines, therefore, cancer have become increasingly serious in these impoverished nations. In terms of environmental effects, pollution is regarded as the most rigorous issue, such as the raising amount of air and water pollution resulting from incomplete environmental monitoring system and the flush chemical pollutants coming from one-sided pursuit of economic development. Furthermore, social factors which include racial and ethnic disparities in health care, limited government funds and short coming of policy in tobacco are contributed to the serious condition. Finally, personal habit is also a leading cause to cancer. Though they seem insignificant in daily, for instance, excessive work stress, unhealthy lifestyle, over use of tobacco and alcohol, they are the fatal account of cancer.

In spite of all the problems, there are a number of possible solutions to reduce the incidence rate of cancer, and mainly three sectors are needed to work together in this case to solve it. The first of these is the public that residents should modify their life style, such as do more exercise, eat healthier and smoke less. Business is the second sector that they should attempt to emit less air, water and chemical pollution during production. Also, distributors of medicines ought to lower the selling price of drugs, so impoverish people can afford the drug price. Finally, government of developing countries should invest more on health care system, higher the tax on tobacco and encourage medical expert to stay in their corresponding countries to improve their health care condition.

American Cancer Society (2010) The global economic cost of cancer. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].
Boutayeb, A. and Boutayeb, S. (2005) The burden of non-communicable diseases in developing countries. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].
Marmot, M.(2005) Social determinants of health inequalities. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].
International Network For Cancer Treatment and Research (INTCR). (2013). Cancer in developing countries: Cancer – A neglected health problem in developing countries. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].
Brown, L. (2008) ‘Early Signs of Decline: Health Challenge Growing’. in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. London: Norton, pp. 106-127.
Prüss-Üstün, A. and Corvalán, C. (2006). Preventing disease through healthy environments: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].
Nelson, A.(2002) Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].

World Health Organization (2008) Report on the global tobacco epidemic: The MPOWER package. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].

World Health Organization.(2010) Burden: Mortality, morbidity and risk factors.
[online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013].

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011) Cancer, reproductive and cardiovascular diseases – Input: Economic factors. [online] Available: [Accessed: 26 November 2013]

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