Health - Cancer - About the sector

On a global scale, cancer accounted for 8.2 million deaths in 2012. Europe comprises only one eighth of the total world population but has around one quarter of the global total of cancer cases. Cancer was the second leading cause of death in EU countries in 2011 accounting for 26% of all deaths, with lung cancer colon cancer and prostate cancer being the main causes of cancer death among men while breast cancer colon cancer and lung cancer were the main three causes of cancer death among women. In 2012, an estimated 2.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in EU Member States, 54% (around 1.5 million) occurring in men and 46% (around 1.2 million) in women, with some 3.2 million new patients per year.1

Large variations exist in cancer incidence across European countries.1 Cancer incidence is highest in northern and western European countries with Denmark, France, Belgium and Norway registering more than 300 new cancer cases per 100 000 population in 2012. The lowest rates occur in some Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, at around 200 new cases per 100 000 population. These variations reflect not only variations in the prevalence of risk factors for cancer but also national policies regarding cancer screening and differences in quality of reporting.

The role of nanotechnology in cancer diagnosis and treatment includes the possibility of combining imaging and drug carrier features, making for early diagnosis of diseases and revolutionising their therapy. Much of the activity of pharmaceutical companies in the US is around targeted nano-delivery of drugs and nano-therapeutics, making this the most advanced area of nanomedicine. In addition, many nano-features will be crucial prerequisites for implementation of personalised medicine and therapy or even treatment of chronic diseases. Nanotechnology is helping to target active compounds towards tumours (rather than subjecting patients to full-body or full-organ doses) and some of these can be heated using radiofrequency waves to enhance the treatment. Implantable devices can be used for localised delivery of drugs and bionanosensors can be used to monitor the efficacy of therapies. In imaging, nanoparticles are used as tracers and contrast agents and for improved endoscopes and catheters. In the future, stem cell production may be enhanced through targeting with active nanoparticles.

1. OECD (2014), Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 OECD Publishing.