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A “feminist approach” to cancer could save the lives of 800,000 women a year | Cancer


Health experts are calling for a “feminist approach” to cancer to eliminate inequalities, as research reveals 800,000 women worldwide die needlessly every year because they are denied optimal care.

Cancer is a leading cause of death among women and is among the top three causes of premature death in almost every country and continent.

But gender inequality and discrimination reduce women’s opportunities to avoid cancer risks and hinder their ability to get timely diagnosis and quality care, according to a report published in the Lancet.

The largest report of its kind, which studied women and cancer in 185 countries, found that unequal power dynamics within global society had “resounding negative impacts” on how women experience prevention. and cancer treatment.

Particular emphasis has been placed on “female cancers” – notably those of the breast and cervix – although lung and colorectal cancers are among the three leading causes of death from this disease, the researchers said. researchers.

Gender inequalities also hinder women’s professional advancement as leaders in cancer research, practice, and policymaking, perpetuating the lack of women-centered cancer prevention and care. adds the report.

The commission brought together a multidisciplinary and diverse team from around the world. It included experts in gender studies, human rights, law, economics, social sciences, epidemiology, cancer prevention and treatment, as well as patient advocates, to analyze how women around the world experience cancer.

It calls for a new feminist agenda for cancer care to eliminate gender inequalities.

“The impact of a patriarchal society on women’s experiences with cancer has remained largely unknown,” said Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, senior advisor for clinical research at the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

“Globally, women’s health is often focused on reproductive and maternal health, aligned with narrow anti-feminist definitions of women’s value and role in society, while cancer remains grossly underrepresented.

“Our committee highlights that gender inequalities have a significant impact on women’s experiences of cancer. To solve this problem, we need cancer to be considered a priority issue in women’s health and call for the immediate introduction of a feminist approach to cancer.

A second study published in the Lancet Global Health suggests that 1.5 million premature cancer deaths among women under 70 in 2020 could have been avoided by eliminating exposure to major risk factors or by early detection and diagnosis.

The research analyzed premature cancer deaths among women aged 30 to 69 and found that an additional 800,000 lives could be saved each year if all women had access to optimal cancer care.

Around 1.3 million women of all ages died in 2020 from four of the main cancer risk factors: tobacco, alcohol, obesity and infections. But the cancer burden in women caused by these four risk factors is “largely underestimated,” the report said.

For example, a 2019 study found that only 19% of women attending breast cancer screening in the UK knew that alcohol was a major risk factor for breast cancer.

“Discussions about cancer in women often focus on ‘female cancers,’ such as breast and cervical cancer,” said Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, co-chair of the commission. “But around 300,000 women under the age of 70 die each year from lung cancer and 160,000 from colorectal cancer: two of the three leading causes of cancer deaths among women worldwide.

“Furthermore, in recent decades, in many high-income countries, deaths from lung cancer among women have been higher than deaths from breast cancer. The tobacco and alcohol industry specifically targets the marketing of its products to women. We believe it is time for governments to counter these actions with gender-responsive policies that raise awareness and reduce exposure to these risk factors.

There is also a need for more scrutiny of the causes and risk factors of cancer in women, as they are less well understood than cancer risk factors in men.

“Of the 3 million adults under the age of 50 diagnosed with cancer in 2020, two out of three were women,” said Dr. Verna Vanderpuye, co-chair of the commission.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women and many of them die in the prime of their lives, leaving behind an estimated 1 million children in 2020 alone. There are important factors specific to women who contribute to this significant global burden – by addressing these issues through a feminist approach, we believe this will reduce the impact of cancer for all.

To counter the negative impact of gender inequality and transform the way women interact with the cancer health system, the commission advocates for sex and gender to be included in all related policies and guidelines to cancer.

It also calls for strategies to increase women’s awareness of cancer risk factors and symptoms, as well as increase equitable access to early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Writing in a related commentary, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, director of the National Cancer Institute, who was not involved in the commission, said the recommendations must be implemented.

“Achieving gender equality in cancer research and care will require broad implementation of the recommendations of the Lancet Commission on Women, Power and Cancer, including the Global Priority Action to to include sex and gender in all cancer-related policies and guidelines. so that they respond to the needs and aspirations of women in all their diversity.

“This is something we can and should all support. Improving outcomes for women translates into benefits for households, communities, societies and the world.


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