Women and Cancer

April 01, 2014 by AUTHOR_NAME in Sullivan's Blog

March 8this International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to reflect on the struggle for women’s equality and to remember and honour the special women in our lives- mothers and grandmothers, aunts and sisters, daughters, nieces, friends and partners. IWD 2014 may be over, but sexual violence, unequal political representation, pay inequity and other forms of gender discrimination continue to undermine the great untapped potential of girls and women worldwide.

In eCancer editorial for IWD I highlighted the dire situation for women in low- and middle-income countries who this year will face a terrible reality: a diagnosis of cancer1. Breast and cervical cancer kills more than 750 000 women each year2– many if not most of these deaths are avoidable. All are tragic. Over 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in less developed regions, where women with breast cancer usually present with advanced disease3. For most women access is limited at every step along the care path, from early detection, to safe surgery, good quality pathology, systemic treatment and radiotherapy, as well as supportive and palliative care. Yet there is woefully little attention and negligible funding has been raised or diverted towards this looming public health disaster.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Women’s health means more than just reproductive health. The health of women reflects their status in society, and can be both a driver and consequence of efforts to combat stigma, fears and myths about cancer, and taboos about women’s bodies. But working to reduce suffering and death from cancer in LMIC is not only a moral imperative; it’s a looming economics imperative4.

We’ve seen dramatic decreases in the incidence of cervical cancer and mortality from breast and cervical cancer in high-income countries. These advances are paralleled by improvements in the status of women, in women’s rights and opportunities. Women leaders in oncology can play an important role in improving the dire situation for millions who have little or no access to care, not only in low- and middle-income countries but also in less-resourced, remote, or otherwise marginalized communities in high income countries.

1. eCancer http://ecancer.org/news/5371-international-women—s-day-editorial—women—s-health-equity-is-progress-for-all.php

2. http://www.who.int/features/qa/12/en/ accessed Mar 8, 2014

3. http://globocan.iarc.fr/Default.aspx accessed Mar 8, 2014

4. Ginsburg O. Breast and cervical cancer control in low and middle-income countries: human rights meet sound health policy. Journal of Cancer Policy. 2013; 1(3) e35-e41