Original Research

Estimating the burden of cancer in South Africa

Emma Finestone, Jodi Wishnia
South African Journal of Oncology | Vol 6 | a220 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajo.v6i0.220 | © 2022 Emma Finestone, Jodi Wishnia | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 February 2022 | Published: 11 August 2022

About the author(s)

Emma Finestone, Percept Actuaries and Consultants, Cape Town, South Africa; and, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Jodi Wishnia, Percept Actuaries and Consultants, Cape Town, South Africa; and, Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: The incidence of cancer is on the rise in South Africa and globally. However, literature on the current and expected future burden of cancer in the country is lacking.

Aim: To develop a model that forecasts the incidence of five of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in South Africa. The model aims to estimate the true underlying burden of cancer, as opposed to diagnosed cases only.

Setting: South Africa.

Methods: Age-specific incidence rates for each cancer are forecasted for the period 2019–2030, based on a combination of public and private sector cohort data. It is assumed that historical trends in changes in the incidence rate of cancer will continue over the forecasting period. Forecasted incidence rates are applied to population forecasts to find the total number of incident cancer cases for the relevant year.

Results: The incidence of all cancers included in this research is increasing over time, with the total number of cases just less than doubling between 2019 and 2030 (from approximately 62 000 to 121 000 incident cases). This is a result of increases in the age-specific incidence rate of cancer, as well as the growth and ageing of the South African population.

Conclusion: Results confirm that cancer is a major and growing public health problem in South Africa. This highlights the need for increases in resources available for cancer services, as well as rapid implementation of cancer prevention strategies, to reduce the number of future cancer cases, and thereby reduce the burden on the health system.


cancer; incidence; non-communicable disease; public health; South Africa


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