Lung cancer mortality in the wake of the changing smoking epidemic: a descriptive study of the global burden in 2020 and 2040

BMJ Open. 2023 May 10;13(5):e065303. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-065303.


Objectives: Lung cancer (LC) is the leading cause of cancer death in 2020, responsible for almost one in five (18.0%) deaths. This paper provides an overview of the descriptive epidemiology of LC based on national mortality estimates for 2020 from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and in the context of recent tobacco control policies.

Design and setting: For this descriptive study, age-standardised mortality rates per 100 000 person-years of LC for 185 countries by sex were obtained from the GLOBOCAN 2020 database and stratified by Human Development Index (HDI). LC deaths were projected to 2040 based on demographic changes alongside scenarios of annually increasing, stable or decreasing rates from the baseline year of 2020.

Results: LC mortality rates exhibited marked variations by geography and sex. Low HDI countries, many of them within sub-Saharan Africa, tend to have low levels of mortality and an upward trend in LC deaths is predicted for both sexes until 2040 according to demographic projections, irrespective of trends in rates. In very high HDI countries, including Europe, Northern America and Australia/New Zealand, there are broadly decreasing trends in men whereas in women, rates are still increasing or reaching a plateau.

Conclusion: The current and future burden of LC in a country or region largely depends on the present trajectory of the smoking epidemic in its constituent populations, with distinct gender differences in smoking patterns, both in transitioning and transitioned countries. Further elevations in LC mortality are expected worldwide, raising important social and political questions, especially in low-income and middle-income countries.

Keywords: epidemiology; health policy; public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Smoking / epidemiology