India and China are two countries with the largest number of women with breast and cervical cancer, show the findings of the study, published in the Lancet.
Globally, cervical and breast cancer take the lives of 800,000 women every year — with two-thirds of breast cancer deaths and nine out of 10 cervical cancer deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
Five-year survival after diagnosis for breast cancer ranges from around 50 per cent in South Africa, Mongolia and India, to over 80 per cent in 34 countries, including Australia, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany and the US, highlighting huge inequalities in access to prevention, early detection, and treatment.
Persistent underinvestment in low- and middle-income countries, which receive just 5 per cent of global funding for cancer, has exacerbated the issue.
Further, with many competing health priorities in low- and middle-income countries, services for women’s cancers are given low priority and allocated few resources.
In addition, “there is a widespread misconception that breast and cervical cancers are too difficult and expensive to prevent and treat, particularly in resource-poor countries where the burden of these diseases is highest,” said lead author Ophira Ginsburg, professor at the University of Toronto, Canada.
Yet, breast and cervical cancer are not inevitably fatal and can be prevented and treated, say the authors, particularly if they are detected and treated at an early stage, the researchers observed.
“There are several low-cost, feasible interventions that do not require specialised care in hospital or massive capital investment, and which could be integrated into existing health-care programmes,” explains Lynette Denny, professor at University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Cervical cancer, for example, is almost entirely preventable thanks to cost-effective routine human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination of girls and cervical screening with treatment of pre-cancers, neither of which require oncologists, or specialist cancer centres, and can prevent 600,000 future cervical cancer deaths in the world’s poorest countries over the next four years.
While mammography and late treatment of breast cancer are likely unaffordable, clinical breast examination screening and breast awareness campaigns are likely to be cost-effective in diagnosing early stage breast cancer in LMICs, and could in turn help promote early treatment.
The response to women’s cancers needs to be seen as a vital part of international commitments to achieve universal health coverage and the new sustainable development goals, the authors said.