Cancer is an enormous global health challenge. Each year, 8 million people die from the disease, making it a leading cause of death worldwide. Cancer is responsible for 1 in 3 premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases. By 2035, almost 15 million cancer-related deaths per year are forecast to occur. The social and economic impact of cancer on individuals, families and societies is set to accelerate. Most alarming is that 70% of the burden will fall on under-resourced regions that are least equipped to provide patient care, from basic treatment to palliation. In such countries undergoing major social and economic change, essential cancer data to guide action in prevention and care are often unavailable or of insufficient quality. Without this knowledge, the majority of the world’s populations will continue to face poorer cancer survival and quality-of-life outcomes.
Leaders in the cancer community have recognized the inequity and the growing burden in developing countries. More governments are adopting cancer control plans – strategies to prevent and treat cancer and offer support to patients and their families. Attention has turned to making sure that tools to create, apply and evaluate programmes are available. Cancer registries are a fundamental part of this process as they describe the present scale and profile of cancer in the community and aid planning by assessing past and future trends. Having evidence on the size and nature of the cancer problem serves as an important stimulus to change policy. However, the availability of cancer registries is limited in most developing countries. Only 1 in 5 low- and middle-income countries have the necessary data for cancer control action. Technical guidance is needed to empower countries to improve their information systems so that they can be used for this vital purpose.