Greece had an estimated 62,500 new diagnoses of cancer in 2020, corresponding to an incidence rate of 526 new cases per 100,000 population, which is lower than the EU average, an OECD report says.
Scheduled to coincide with World Cancer Day, the report notes, however, that the reductions in cancer mortality have been slower in Greece than in the EU.
Overall, cancer in Greece accounted for one in four deaths in 2019, with lung cancer being the main cause of death by any type of cancer.
Notably, the four most frequent cancer types for both sexes account for half of all cancers: lung (14 %), colorectal (13 %), breast (12 %), prostate (10 %) and bladder cancer (9 %).
Lung cancer was the main type among men (19 %), followed by prostate (18 %) and bladder cancer (14 %).
Breast cancer was the main type among women (29 %), followed by colorectal (12 %) and lung cancer (9 %).
New cancer cases among men are expected to rise by approximately 20 % between 2020 and 2040 (from 35,000 to 44,000 cases) and by 12 % among women (from 27,000 to 30,000 cases) respectively.
Smoking a major factor in cancer deaths in Greece
The OECD report says that although smoking in Greece has declined during the last two decades, one in four adults smoked daily in 2019 – one of the highest rates among EU countries.
It notes that Greece has struggled to reduce smoking – especially in public places, including workplaces – for over two decades. In October 2019, the government introduced a more comprehensive anti-smoking law as part of a new tobacco control action plan, followed by enforcement measures and penalties.
It adds, however, that after successive COVID-19 lockdowns when businesses were shut down, monitoring of smoking in public spaces became less strict. Further, rules on vaping in public spaces are not widely clarified. Overall, measures to reduce smoking have focused on retroactive rather than preventive policies, the OECD report says.
Obesity is a major threat to cancer in Greece
In 2019, 58 % of Greek adults were overweight or obese – a proportion that has increased since 2014 (55 %), although at a lower rate than in the EU (53 %), the OECD report notes.
Greece displays higher rates of overweight or obese adults than neighboring Mediterranean countries with a similar diet, such as Italy (which has the lowest rate in EU at 46 %), Cyprus (50 %) and Spain (54 %). Overweight and obesity among adults is the third major risk factor after smoking and exposure to air pollution.
Further, a decade of financial austerity had a profound impact on social determinants of health in Greece, especially among the poorest population groups, undermining efforts to minimize the incidence of preventable risk factors through the adoption of healthier lifestyles, and curtailing public cancer prevention programs.
Greece has been unable to develop comprehensive cancer screening programs, which in addition to the consistent lack of a national cancer strategy, results in poor outcomes of early cancer detection.
The vast majority of screening tests are performed on an opportunistic basis, with a large share paid out of pocket. Consequently, significant disparities exist between the lowest and highest income groups, as well as between urban and more remote areas.