Health - Cancer - About the sector

In 2019, cancer accounted for 24% of all deaths in OECD countries and was the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases. Lung cancer (24.1%), colorectal cancer (10.7%) and prostate cancer (9.7%) were the leading causes of cancer-related deaths for men, whereas lung (17.2%), breast (14.6%) and colorectal (11.2%) cancer were the leading causes for women. These represent 44% of all cancers diagnosed in OECD countries. Since 2000, mortality rates from cancer have fallen in all OECD countries.1  

In the 27 EU countries, around 2.7 million people (more men than women) were expected to be diagnosed with cancer and 1.3 million are predicted to die from it in 2020. Different from all OECD countries, the main cancer sites among men were expected to be prostate cancer (23%), lung cancer (14%) and colorectal cancer (13%). Among women, breast cancer was expected to account for 29% of all new cancer cases, followed by colorectal cancer (12%) and lung cancer (9%). In the EU, mortality rates from cancer are lowest in Finland, Malta, Spain, Luxembourg, and Sweden, with rates at least 15% lower than the EU average. The highest rates are in the Slovak Republic, Poland, Cyprus, and Hungary, with rates more than 20% higher than the EU average. These variations reflect differences in national policies regarding cancer screening to detect different types of cancer, as well as differences in the quality of cancer surveillance and reporting.2  

Over 40% of cancer cases are preventable, and mortality can be reduced through earlier diagnosis and the provision of more timely and effective treatments. Nanotechnology has led to several promising results with its application in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, including gene therapy, detection and diagnosis, drug delivery, biomarker mapping, targeted therapy, and molecular imaging. Nanotechnology-based immunotherapeutic agents have been used for several cancer types to reduce the invasiveness of cancerous cells while sparing healthy cells at the target site. Nanomaterials, including carbon nanotubes, polymeric micelles and liposomes, have been used in cancer drug design where they have shown considerable pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic benefits in cancer diagnosis and treatment. But, as with other therapeutic options for treating cancer, nanotechnology comes with a few challenges, including systemic and certain organ toxicities, causing some setbacks with their clinical applications. More progress is needed to improve drug delivery, maximise their efficacy while keeping the disadvantages to the minimum.3 Still, nanomedicine technologies have progressed to an extent where several nanomedicines are already available in the market for the treatment of cancer, and many have reached advanced stages of development and are undergoing clinical trials.4 



OECD (2021). Health at a glance: OECD indicators. Available at:;jsessionid=fH1JnWWBHvubYdLph8RvdvxUIKuDcxvPDpE92GoT.ip-10-240-5-166

OECD & European Union (2020). Health at a glance: Europe 2020: State of health in the EU cycle. Available at:

Jin, C., Wang, K., Oppong-Gyebi, A., & Hu, J. (2020). Application of nanotechnology in cancer diagnosis and therapy-a mini-review. International Journal of Medical Sciences, 17(18), 2964.

Pillai, G. (2019). Nanotechnology toward treating cancer: A comprehensive review. Applications of targeted nano drugs and delivery systems, 221-256.