Two recent reports focusing on the care of women with breast cancer and other cancers in low- and middle-income countries are reporting an up to 60 percent possible rise in disease-related deaths — affecting as many as 5.5 million women — through 2030.
One report, by researchers with the American Cancer Society (ACS), “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women,” was released at the recent World Cancer Congress in Paris. The study was compiled in cooperation with Merck.
It based its estimates on population growth and aging, but said that younger women in developing countries would be most affected.
“Most of the deaths occur in young- and middle-aged adults,” Sally Cowal, senior vice president of global health at ACS and a co-author, said in a press release. The report also highlights that cancer is now second to cardiovascular disease as a leading cause of death among women worldwide.
Breast and lung cancer are the most common cancer types in all countries, with colorectal cancer being the third leading cause of mortality in developed nations and cervical cancer in less developed one. All four are mostly preventable and can be detected early, when treatment is more effective.
Cowal added that women in poorer countries are becoming increasingly exposed to known cancer risk factors, such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, high obesity rates, and postponed motherhood — factors also associated with rapid economic transition.
Because of these changes and population growth, lower-income countries are witnessing marked increases in cancer rates, previously only common in high-income countries.
ACS cited International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates, showing that 6.7 million new cancer cases and 3.5 million deaths among women were recorded in 2012. Of these, 56 percent of cases and 64 percent of deaths were in relatively developing nations, primarily in eastern Asia, with 1.7 million cases and 1 million deaths reported in 2012, mostly in China.
But the highest ratio of cancer cases is still found in more wealthy European, American, and Asian countries, particularly due to better access to screening and detection, the ACS report said. The ratio of cancer cases to deaths, however, is much higher among low- and middle-income countries — like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Mongolia, and Papua New Guinea — due to poorer diagnosis and access to treatment.
A second report, “Changing global policy to deliver safe, equitable, and affordable care for women’s cancers” published in the journal The Lancet, noted that the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer alone was expected to almost double to 3.2 million per year by 2030, from 1.7 million in 2015.
For cervical cancer, diagnoses would rise by at least 25 percent by 2030, mainly in low and middle-income countries.
Cervical cancer can already be prevented by human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and detected through regular pap test screenings and the researchers reported that HPV vaccination of all 12-year-old girls could prevent 420,000 deaths worldwide over their lifetime.
“The global community cannot continue to ignore the problem — hundreds of thousands of women are dying unnecessarily every year,” said Richard Sullivan, of King’s College London, who co-authored The Lancet report. “Not only are the costs of essential cancer services for women lower than expected, but scale-up of diagnostic, surgical and treatment services are a highly effective investment compared the devastating economic cost to countries, communities and families.”