According to numerous studies worldwide, women are at a disadvantage compared to men when it comes to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. A new commission wants to change that. The "Lancet Commission Women, Power and Cancer" presented itself this week in the journal "The Lancet Global Health". Co-chair Ophira Ginsburg of the US National Cancer Institute called for the "immediate adoption of a feminist approach to cancer."
According to a parallel study published in the same journal, cancer is one of the three most important causes of death in women under 70 in practically all countries in the world. The authors come to the conclusion that 1.5 of the 2.3 million cancer deaths in women are either due to the elimination of risk factors or could be avoided through earlier diagnosis. 800,000 women could survive if they received optimal care after a cancer diagnosis. The commission also demands that the way cancer patients are treated must change.
Women are not only affected by breast or uterine cancer. 300,000 women under 70 die of lung cancer and 160,000 of colorectal cancer each year worldwide, and in some countries more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer, the commission said. In 2020, two thirds of the approximately three million cancer cases diagnosed were under 50 women. Across the entire lifespan and all types of cancer, the risk is about the same for women and men.
Insufficient information about cancer risk factors
According to the commission, women have a worse chance of receiving early and good treatment for cancer. When women are sick, they sometimes delay going to the doctor to take care of the family. Studies have shown that cancer patients complain more often about a lack of pain treatment than men.
Women are also not sufficiently informed about the cancer risk factors tobacco, alcohol, obesity and infections. For example, in the UK in 2019, only 19 percent of women who had mammograms to detect breast cancer knew that alcohol was one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer.
When dealing with cancer, focus more on men
The fact that in many countries it is mostly women who look after sick relatives also means that fewer women take leadership positions in cancer research, treatment and strategy decisions. This in turn reinforces the common pattern that there is often too little focus on women when dealing with cancer, the commission writes.
The commission demands that governments change their policies and health services focus more on women. Members are experts on, among other things, cancer research, prevention and treatment as well as economic and social policy. They should develop proposals for governments and health systems to end discrimination against women.