Gender inequality is having “resounding negative impacts” on how women experience cancer prevention and treatment according to the largest report of its kind, published this week in The Lancet.
Examining the experience of 800,000 women in 185 countries, the study showed inequality and discrimination are exacerbating cancer risks and impeding women from receiving a timely diagnosis and quality care.
Health experts are therefore calling for a “feminist approach” to change these outcomes in cancer worldwide, with women dying needlessly every year because they are denied optimal care.
Worldwide, there was found to be a stronger focus on “women’s cancers” – including breast and cervical – despite lung and colorectal cancer being among the top three causes of deaths from the disease, researchers said.
“About 300,000 women under 70 die each year from lung cancer, and 160,000 from colorectal cancer: two of the top three causes of cancer death among women, globally”, Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram, a co-chair of the commission said.
Women are also missing out on critical professional development as leaders in cancer research, practice and policymaking, which contributes heavily to the lack of women-centred cancer prevention and care, the report adds.
“The impact of a patriarchal society on women’s experiences of cancer has gone largely unrecognised,” Dr Ophira Ginsburg, a senior adviser for clinical research at the National Cancer Institute’s Centre for Global Health and a co-chair of the commission said.
Ginsburg added that the focus on women’s health needs a more nuanced and comprehensive lens.
“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 underrepresented.
“Our commission highlights that gender inequalities significantly impact women’s experiences with cancer. To address this, we need cancer to be seen as a priority issue in women’s health, and call for the immediate introduction of a feminist approach to cancer.”
According to a second study published in the Lancet Global Health there were 1.5 million premature cancer deaths in women under 70 in 2020. They could have been prevented through the early addressing and elimination of risk factors or via early detection and diagnosis.
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