India’s Cancer Advantage over USA: Is Rural Lifestyle the Key?

40% vs. 10%: The Staggering Difference in Cancer Risk Between the U.S. and India

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, and the risk of developing it varies significantly depending on geographic location and individual factors. While the global average lifetime risk of developing cancer hovers around 20%, a closer look at specific countries reveals a stark contrast.

The United States faces a notably elevated cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, the average lifetime risk of developing cancer in the U.S. is approximately 40%. This figure is further divided into 41.6% for men and 39.6% for women, highlighting the vulnerability of both genders.

Similarly, Europe represents about one-tenth of the global population, yet one in four of all cancer diagnoses occur in this region. In many European countries, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 75. The lifetime risk of a cancer diagnosis ranges from 35% in Ireland to 25% in Montenegro.

Not to mention, the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer in other developed nations like South Korea (37.9%) and Japan (53.9%)

Several factors contribute to this elevated risk, including lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic predispositions. High rates of obesity, unhealthy dietry patterns, Alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and exposure to carcinogens in the environment all play a role in the increased incidence of cancer in the United States and Europe.

In contrast, India presents a considerably lower risk profile for cancer. Research indicates that the average lifetime risk of developing cancer in India is approximately 10.6%, one-fourth of the rate of United States and half the rate of global average (20%).

Similarly the risk of a woman in sub-Saharan Africa developing cancer by age 75 was 14.1%, while the risk for men was 12.2% (2020 data).

The stark difference in cancer risk between the developed regions (United States, Europe) and developing regions (India, Africa) underscores the influence of lifestyle and environment on cancer development. Predominance of rural and organic lifestyle plays a key role in low cancer prevalence in these regions. Even in United States, rural counties have lower cancer incidence rates when compared to urban and metropolitan counties.

This lower risk can be attributed to various factors, including predominantly rural lifestyle, natural dietary patterns, lesser usage of packed foods, less polluted environment, regular exposure to sunlight and enhanced natural immunity.

While there is no data available demarking the cancer risk in Urban vs Rural India, almost 2/3 of Indian population still lives in rural areas and lives a relatively natural lifestyle, which can possibly explain the relatively low cancer prevalence.

Understanding these factors and implementing targeted interventions can help reduce the burden of cancer globally and improve the overall health and well-being of populations worldwide.

It is worth noting that a similar pattern has been observed during Covid-19 pandemic recently. The number of confirmed cases (103 millions) as well as deaths (1.2 million) in United States is more than double when compared to the confirmed cases ( 45 millions) as well as deaths (0.5 million) in India. This gets more shocking when we consider per capita confirmed cases taking into account ( the population of India is 1.41 billions compared to United States, 330 millions). A person in US was 10 times (9.7 to be precise) more likely to get infected with Covid-19 compared to a person in India.

It can be argued that human immunity against diseases is inversely proportional to the level of Western model of development in a particular region. While developing regions may be prone to some forms of contagious, infectious and waterborne diseases, the developed regions are prone to lifestyle diseases like cancer, heart and kidney diseases. A WHO report concurs to this conclusion. The correct strategy would be to adopt the best of both worlds. By limiting the usage of plastics, stale and packaged foods, limiting usage of pesticides, adopting a healthy lifestyle coupled with regular exercise and Yoga, those living in urban regions might be able to achieve this.