Cancer is Preventable, and We Fail Women by Not Taking Steps

It is a shocking number, that could give hope in reducing cancer rates around the world.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has released a report the Lancet Global Health that suggest that cancer in women younger than 70 years of age could have been prevented. In 2020, 2.3 million women worldwide died prematurely of cancer, defined as those below the 70-year mark.

By their estimates, 1.3 million of those deaths could have been avoided if preventative measures were taken. This amounts to seven in ten deaths around the world. In addition, the other three-tenths of deaths could have been avoided if timely and appropriate treatment had been given.

Breast cancer continues to claim most cancer deaths and diagnoses across the world for women, with cervical and lung cancers the second largest portion, depending on a country’s Human Development Index (HDI). Deaths in countries with a lower HDI were much higher.

The report calls for greater investment in cancer prevention programs, as well as an increased coverage of vaccination for things like the HPV virus. The report points to a third of the deaths as linked to the four major risk factors in cancer for women: tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, high body weight, and infections.

However, the report calls for greater scrutiny of the risk factors for cancer in women, as they are poorly understood. The report also notes that commercial products used predominantly by women, mostly cosmetic, are the subject of increased scrutiny.

In addition to the increased risk to being diagnosed with preventable cancers, the report also says that the burden of caregiving for cancer patients is largely undertaken by women. The report’s commissioners are pushing for fair and inclusive pay standards for caregivers, given the harsh economic burden that cancer puts on women and families in general. The commissioners say the burden of cancer on women is both under-recognized and undervalued.

The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network believes in preventative measures like healthy diet and avoidance of alcohol and tobacco and urges governments to continue to expand these programs. However, early screening, particularly breast cancer screening, is needed in all provinces, and women should be able to opt in at any age. In addition, more robust lung cancer screening in all the provinces in Canada would not only help women, detect lung cancer early, increasing chances of survivorship.

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