New Lancet Commission on Women and Cancer

Taking into consideration the high proportion of women affected by cancer and the gender and socio-economic inequalities in health, The Lancet has launched a new commission on women and cancer.

While the global health community has acknowledged cancer as an important challenge to health and economy, the community has not yet acknowledged the disproportionate impact of cancer on the lives and livelihoods of women, and the downstream impacts this creates for societies.

  • In 104 countries, breast cancer has the highest age-standardised incidence rate of all cancers in both sexes combined; in 23 countries, it is cervical cancer.
  • Among the 311,365 women who died of cervical cancer in 2018, nearly nine in ten lived in lov- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
  • Breast cancer incidence and mortality are increasing disproportionately in LMICs.
  • Obesity is a preventable risk factor for many cancers including breast, uterine (endometrial), ovarian cancers, colorectal, gallbladder, renal, and other cancers and obesity is increasing disproportionately among women in many countries.
  • The number of new cancers in 2012 attributable to excess body-mass index in women was 2.5 times that in men (343,000 vs 137,000, respectively).

Women are not only disproportionately affected by cancer themselves, but they also cast aside their needs to care for family and relatives who are diagnosed with cancer and other disease. The whole family, and children especially, suffer when a mother dies of cancer in the prime of life.

Much has been achieved in global cancer policy and global women’s health since the first UN High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) in 2011, and the First Report of the Task Force on Women and NCDs.

However, major challenges remain:

  1. Cervical cancer persists as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in 42 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa where the prevalence of HIV, a known risk factor, is high. In High Income Countries among women of colour, women living in poverty, and marginalised women everywhere, including refugees and migrants.
  2. The global community and governments must be prepared to reach the women at the highest risk in order to eliminate just cervical cancer.

Until those in positions of power value the health and wellbeing of every girl and woman as equal to that of men, and until they act on this commitment, this seemingly achievable goal will never be attained,” writes Ophira Ginsburg and Richard Horton, authors of the Lancet Commentary, as per, The Lancet.

In order to advance an evidence-based, gendered approach to cancer risk and cancer control, The Lancet has launched the Commission on women and cancer which will comprise a multidisciplinary and diverse team with expertise in gender studies, human rights, law, economics, sociology, as well as cancer epidemiology, prevention, and treatment.

The commission will,

  • address urgent questions at the intersection of social inequality, cancer risk, and outcomes, and the status of women in society;
  • estimate the societal costs of cancer’s impact on women, children, and families;
  • take stock of the missing women leaders in public health and oncology, who might make more equitable decisions regarding what gets funded;
  • consider women’s leadership in advocacy efforts to reduce stigma and help to reclaim the rights of women to control their bodies; and
  • ask challenging questions about the causes of cancer in women, and “the causes of the causes”, such as the commercial and social determinants of health, that drive the increasing exposures for women to tobacco, alcohol, dietary, and other modifiable risk factors.

… this Commission will explore the nexus of gender, power, and cancer,” write Ginsburg and Horton in The Lancet.