Over 1.5 million cancer deaths in women worldwide could be avoided through proper prevention, says report by The Lancet

A recent The Lancet Commission analyzed data on the intersection of gender, power, and cancer distribution, issuing warnings about the unequal burden of disease still shouldered by women

October 09, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Cancer research
(Photo: Airman 1st Class Ashley Reed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

A report published by The Lancet at the end of September warns against the unequal distribution of the burden of cancer between women and men globally. The report found, among other things, that at least 1.5 million cancer-related deaths in women could be avoided through proper prevention and early detection. An additional 800,000 deaths could be avoided if all women had access to proper cancer care. 

Cancer remains one of the top leading causes of deaths in over 130 countries in the world, along with cardiovascular diseases. The report notes that there have been declines in cancer mortality in both high and middle-income countries. However, differences still exist in the mortality rates between women and men. In 2020, among women, there were 9.2 million new cancer cases, resulting in 4.4 million deaths. The leading types of cancer among women continue to be breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, and thyroid cancer, which together account for over 50% of all cases. 

Survival rates from certain types of cancer can vary greatly depending on prevention strategies, available diagnostics, proper treatment, and follow-up. For example, 5-year breast cancer survival rates vary widely between countries. In the United States, it stands at 91%, while in South Africa, it is as low as 38%. These differences can, among other things, reflect disparities in the range of care procedures, prevention programs, and diagnostics available in different parts of the world.

Differences in survival rates are also notable in childhood. Some reports analyzed by The Lancet Commission indicate that in some regions, only 1 girl per 2.4 boys receives cancer treatment. The report notes that the discrepancy is a “consequence of social discrimination of girls, whereby families living in poverty prioritize the health care needs of boys rather than girls because they are considered to be more valuable in certain settings.”

Children are affected by cancer prevalence in other ways as well. In 2020, 1 million children lost their mothers due to cancer, with most of these maternal deaths occurring in Asia and Africa. This has long-term effects, including increased child mortality, reduced access to education, and more. 

To address this situation, especially considering that “patriarchy dominates cancer care, research, and policymaking,” the report calls for equitable access to cancer research resources, leadership roles, and funding opportunities for women. It also emphasizes the importance of properly valuing the paid and unpaid cancer-related care work undertaken by women. 

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