70% of Women’s Cancer Deaths in 2020 Preventable, Study Reveals

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Recent studies have indicated that nearly 70% of premature deaths in women caused by cancer across the globe in 2020 could have been circumvented through preventative measures. The Lancet Commission on Women, Power, and Cancer in conjugation with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have issued this latest data.

The premature loss of 5.3 million lives due to cancer in 2020, from individuals between the ages of 30 and 69 has been revealed, with 2.3 million of the deceased being women. The research highlights that prevention could have mitigated approximately two out of three of those deaths.

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“Cancer mortality rates present significant disparities across the globe. While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aim to reduce premature non-communicable disease deaths, including cancer, progress remains uneven,” noted Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, Deputy Head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC. “Allocating increased financial resources to cancer prevention programs, proliferating vaccines, and advocating early diagnosis, alongside speedy treatment measures are the ineluctable steps required to address the substantial inequality of cancer worldwide.”

Premature cancer deaths in women were found to be more rampant in nations that score lower on the Human Development Index (HDI), a metric established by the United Nations. Besides the terrible loss of life, an additional repercussion of these premature deaths has been that roughly a million children globally lost their mothers.

“With socio-economic transitions creating vast fluctuations in global cancer patterns, the types of cancers contributing most to premature deaths also vary,” stated Dr. Freddie Bray, head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at IARC and a commissioner of the Lancet report. “For instance, while breast cancer is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, in countries with low-to-mid HDI, cervical cancer is second. Nonetheless, in high-to-very-high HDI nations, lung cancer takes the second spot.”

The leading causes of cancer identified by the researchers include smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity, and infections. Addressing these could have potentially prevented one-third, or 1.3 million, of all cancer deaths in women for all age groups. However, the awareness around risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, is shockingly low, as demonstrated by a UK study that found only 19% of screened women knew about alcohol-associated risks.

Commercial products, such as certain breast implants, skin lightening creams, and hair relaxers, have also been linked with increased cancer risks. Besides this, the financial toll of cancer- women were found to have spent more than 30% of their annual household income for treatments, medicines, and medical costs following their diagnosis- is significant.

According to the analysis, women primarily undertake unpaid caregiving responsibilities for individuals afflicted by cancer. The researchers propose a “new intersectional feminist agenda for cancer care”, which includes health systems, cancer workforces, and research systems that consider the diverse needs of women as patients, caregivers, and researchers, hence easing the global cancer burden.