Cancer affects 14 million people around the world each year, but rates are rising more in some countries over others for a surprising reason.
Researchers have discovered that rates are rising in the world’s ‘better’ countries more than the world’s ‘worse off’ countries.
A study by the University of Adelaide found that nations with greater access to healthcare – such as Japan, Germany and Singapore – were experiencing higher rates of cancer than countries with less healthcare access, like Afghanistan, Somalia and Sierra Leone.
This is because, according to the scientists, modern medicine is allowing people to survive cancer, and so their cancer-causing genes are being passed on to another generation.
The researchers discovered that some cancers had doubled or even quadrupled in the past 100 to 150 years over four to five generations.
They believe that human evolution has changed from ‘survival of the fittest” in what’s known as the theory ‘natural selection’.
Before medicine allowed people to survive cancer, more people used to die from the condition and their genes would not have had a chance to be passed on.
“Modern medicine has enabled the human species to live much longer than would otherwise be expected in the natural world,” said Professor Maciej Henneberg, from the University of Adelaide.
“Besides the obvious benefits that modern medicine gives, it also brings with it an unexpected side-effect: allowing genetic material to be passed from one generation to the next that predisposes people to have poor health, such as type 1 diabetes or cancer.
“Because of the quality of our healthcare in western society, we have almost removed natural selection as the ‘janitor of the gene pool’. Unfortunately, the accumulation of genetic mutations over time and across multiple generations is like a delayed death sentence.”
In the study, scientists looked at health and socioeconomic data from the United Nations and the World Bank of 173 countries.
The top ten countries with the highest opportunities for natural salutation – or the worst off – were Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, and Cameroon.
The top ten countries with the lowest opportunities for natural selection – considered ‘better off’ were Iceland, Singapore, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, and Andorra.
Interestingly, neither the UK or United States made the top ten.
The rate of cancers in the ten ‘best’ countries was greater than in the ten ‘worst’ countries.
This included testicular cancer, which was 14 times higher, lung cancer, which was 12 times higher, and skin melanoma, which was ten times higher.
Brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukaemia, breast cancer and ovarian cancer also had a higher incidence.