Cancer Patients Needing Chemotherapy Estimated to Increase 53% by 2040


From 2018 to 2040, the number of patients who will need chemotherapy each year is estimated to rise from 9.8 million to 15 million.

By 2040, 15 million individuals each year will need chemotherapy, amounting to a 53% increase from 2018, according to a new modelling study published in The Lancet Oncology.

As a result, the health care industry will need to significantly expand the chemotherapy workforce to ensure optimal delivery of treatment. The landmark study is the first of its kind to estimate the scale of chemotherapy provision needed at national, regional, and global scales to respond to this situation, according to the authors.

The rising global cancer burden continues to be a major health crisis. Cancer incidence is expected to rise from 17 million to 26 million between 2018 and 2040, with a large proportion of those patients likely to derive benefit from chemotherapy. Using data for the incidence of 29 types of cancer in 183 countries in 2018 and projections of incidence in 2040, the researchers projected the number of new patients requiring first-course chemotherapy in each year. Next, they estimated the corresponding cancer physician workforce required to deliver this chemotherapy.

The estimated proportion of patients needing chemotherapy showed a 53% relative increase from 2018 to 2040, with 67% of these patients residing in low-income or middle-income countries in 2040, according to the data. The authors demonstrated that the most common indications for chemotherapy worldwide in 2040 will be lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Furthermore, the study estimated that in 2018, 65,000 cancer physicians were required to deliver optimal chemotherapy. This number is expected to rise to 100,000 by 2040, according to the authors.

To meet this increased demand, the authors emphasized the need for strategic investments in chemotherapy service provisions and cancer physicians.

“Strategies are urgently needed to equip the global health workforce to enable safe treatment of current and future patients,” lead study author Brooke Wilson, MSc, who is a conjoint lecturer at UNSW medicine, said in a press release.

Population growth and changes in distributions of cancer types by country may be the leading drivers of this increase in chemotherapy demand, the authors noted.

“All in all, this study will help to further guide policy makers and stakeholders in priority settings involved in setting up health infrastructure and strengthening and educating the future workforce,” Melina Arnold, PhD, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said about the study. “To leverage the full potential of this type of global prediction study, it would be useful to estimate costs of and strategies for scaling up health services for optimal patient management, not only for chemotherapy, but also throughout the full continuum of cancer.”


Wilson BE, Jacob S, Yap ML, et al. Estimates of global chemotherapy demands and corresponding physician workforce requirements for 2018 and 2040: a population-based study. 2019. DOI:

Global study predicts more than 50% in chemotherapy demand by 2040 [news release]. UNSW Medicine. Accessed May 9, 2019.

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