According to new research published in The Lancet Global Health, approximately 70 per cent of the 5.3 million premature cancer-related deaths worldwide in 2020 were preventable, while the remaining 30 per cent were treatable.
Of the total deaths, 2.9 million were in men, while 2.3 million were in women, the study said, which used the GLOBOCAN 2020 database on cancer mortality from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for analysis.
The IARC conducts and coordinates research into the causes of cancer and is an intergovernmental agency under the WHO of the United Nations.
Tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and infections accounted for roughly 1.3 million deaths in women across all age groups in 2020, the study reported, acknowledging that the burden of cancer in women due to these risk factors was widely under-recognised.
Further, the study suggested that 1.5 million premature cancer deaths in women could be prevented each year through the elimination of exposures to key risk factors or via early detection and diagnosis, while a further 0.8 million lives could be saved each year if all women had access to optimal cancer care.
This study is a global estimation of the burden of premature, preventable, and treatable deaths from 36 cancer types in 2020 in 185 countries, by world region and Human Development Index (HDI).
“Discussion about cancer in women often focus on ‘women’s cancers’, such as breast and cervical cancer, but about 3,00,000 women under 70 die each year from lung cancer, and 1,60,000 from colorectal cancer: two of the top three causes of cancer death among women, globally.
“Furthermore, for the last few decades in many high-income countries, deaths from lung cancer in women have been higher than deaths from breast cancer,” said study author Isabelle Soerjomataram, Deputy Branch Head of Cancer Surveillance at IARC.
Greater scrutiny of the causes and risk factors for cancer in women is also needed as they are less well understood compared with cancer risk factors for men, the study said.
Further, it said, growing evidence suggests links between commercial products predominantly used by women, including breast implants, skin lighteners and hair relaxers, and an enhanced cancer risk.
According to a new Lancet Commission report, gender inequality and discrimination influence women’s rights and opportunities to avoid cancer risk factors and impede their ability to seek and obtain timely diagnosis and quality cancer care.
Further, gender inequalities have resulted in an unpaid caregiver workforce that is predominantly female, and hinder women’s professional advancement as leaders in cancer research, practice, and policymaking, which in turn perpetuate the lack of women-centred cancer prevention and care, the report said.
“The impact of a patriarchal society on women’s experiences of cancer has gone largely unrecognised. Globally, women’s health is often focused on reproductive and maternal health, aligned with narrow anti-feminist definitions of women’s value and roles in society, while cancer remains wholly under-represented,” said study author Ophira Ginsburg, co-Chair of the Commission.
“There are important factors specific to women which contribute to this substantial global burden – by addressing these through a feminist approach we believe this will reduce the impact of cancer for all,” said Verna Vanderpuye, senior consultant at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana, and co-chair of the Commission.