Cancer’s gender problem
29th Sep, 2023
Recently, a new Lancet report highlights that the lack of awareness, financial and decision-making powers hurts women's chances of timely diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Highlights of the Report:
- Title: ‘Women, Power and Cancer’,
- The Lancet report reveals that 63% of Indian women's cancer deaths could be prevented through risk reduction and screening, and 37% via timely treatment.
- The report mentioned that around 6.9 million cancer deaths among women in India were preventable and 4.03 million were treatable.
- It also mentions that even though men are at a higher risk of cancers that affect both the genders, cancer incidence and mortality in women remains high.
- Globally, women account for 48% of the new cancer cases and 44% of cancer deaths.
- This happens even though some of the cancers in women, such as breast and cervical cancers are highly preventable and treatable.
- Reason behind Women cancer patients’ rise:
- Lack of timely treatment: Women face challenges in accessing timely and appropriate care in the absence of knowledge, decision-making and financial powers and availability of services at the primary level closer to home.
- Les authority to take self-decisions: Irrespective of which part of the world they live in and which strata of the society they belong to, women are more likely than men to lack the knowledge and power to make informed decisions.
- Women are also much more likely to experience financial catastrophe due to cancer.
- Discrimination and Inequality: When it comes to providing cancer care, women are under-represented as leaders, are likely to face gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, and also constitute the largest unpaid workforce.
- Lack of funds: The report estimated that the value of unpaid cancer care-giving by women is about 3.66% of India’s national health expenditure.
- There is a need to regularly collect data on gender and social demographics for cancer health statistics.
- It called for developing, strengthening, and enforcing laws and policies that reduce exposures to known cancer risks.
- The report called for equitable access to cancer research resources, leadership, and funding opportunities for women.
What is Cancer?
- Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body.
- Other terms used are malignant tumors and neoplasms.
- One defining feature of the disease is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs; the latter process is referred to as metastasis. Widespread metastases are the primary cause of death from cancer.
- Cancer begins when genetic changes interfere with this orderly process causing cells to start to grow uncontrollably.
- These cells may form a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign.
- A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
- A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.
- Some types of cancer do not form a tumor. These include leukemias, most types of lymphoma, and myeloma.
Stages of Cancer detection:
- Self-Examination: Individuals are encouraged to perform self-examinations for certain types of cancer, such as breast and testicular cancer.
- Screening Tests: Screening tests are often recommended for individuals with specific risk factors or within certain age groups.
- Clinical Examination: Healthcare professionals conduct physical exams to look for signs and symptoms of cancer. This may involve palpating the body for lumps or abnormalities, checking skin changes, and assessing other physical indicators.
Women and Cancer:
- The two most common cancers in women– breast and cervical.
- They are highly preventable and treatable.
- Breast Cancer: The American Cancer Society recommends the following for women at average risk for breast cancer:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start yearly breast cancer screening with a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
- Women 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
- Cervical Cancer: Chronic infection by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer.
Challenges for Women in Indian society:
- Lack of Awareness: Many women, especially in rural areas, lack awareness about the importance of cancer screening, leading to low participation rates.
- Societal Stigma: Societal norms and taboos often discourage women from discussing their health concerns openly, hindering their access to screening services.
- Financial Barriers: High costs associated with cancer screening and treatment may deter women from seeking early diagnosis and care.
- Gender Roles: Traditional gender roles may prioritize women's caregiving responsibilities over their own health, delaying or neglecting screenings.
- Limited Access to Healthcare: Rural and marginalized communities often have limited access to healthcare facilities, including cancer screening centers.
- Cultural Norms: Cultural beliefs and practices may discourage women from pursuing cancer screening or treatment, further exacerbating gender disparities.
- Governments should run public awareness campaigns aimed at educating women about the importance of cancer prevention, early detection, and healthy lifestyles. These campaigns often emphasize the significance of regular screenings.
- Governments fund cancer research to develop new treatments, therapies, and early detection methods, benefiting women and the entire population.
- Laws and policies must be enacted to protect women from discrimination and ensure their rights regarding cancer care. These laws may include measures to guarantee insurance coverage and job protection during treatment.