‘Feminist approach’ to cancer could save 800,000 women’s lives every year, say health experts


Health experts have said 800,000 deaths of women resulting from cancer could be averted each year across the globe with a “feminist approach.”

A report in medical journal the Lancet discovered that in countries ranked as low on the Human Development Index, 72 per cent of deaths in women with cancer were premature.

It is thought that equitable access to early detection for men and women could be a groundbreaking factor in preventing cancer-related deaths - which 2.3 million women suffer each year across the world. More attention given to women with less finances than men to cope with their health problems may also help, the report found.

Findings from the Lancet Commission report, which used research conducted in 185 countries, suggest 1.5 million of these deaths could be prevented with access to optimal cancer care. A further 800,000 can be saved with the correct “feminist approach”.

Concerns also come in response to troubling figures that say in 2020, of 3 million adults diagnosed with cancer under the age of 50, two out of three were women. And they continue to be more disadvantaged than men regardless of geographic regions or socioeconomic backgrounds.

Whilst smoking, obesity, alcohol and infections all play a part in women’s illness, experts have suggested that there is more to dissect and that these issues are broader than most often consider.

One of the report’s author’s and King’s College London Professor Carlo Caduff said: “Cancer in women often goes unrecognised and has far-reaching consequences for families and to society more broadly.

“Gender norms, roles, relations, and their intersection with other power hierarchies influence women’s exposures to cancer risk factors, access to quality health services, and impacts their experiences with cancer, whether directly, or indirectly, as caregivers.”

For instance, there appears to be some unawareness that marketing is largely to blame for 300,000 yearly deaths caused by lung cancer in women under 70. Such gendered targeting of tobacco marketing is “on the rise,” the report says.

It adds that laws and policies need to be enforced to tackle gender-based harassment and discrimination in the cancer workforce where women are under-represented as leaders. There is also a need to ensure women’s professional developments are not hindered so further steps can be taken to eliminate gender inequality in various walks of life.

Professor Caduff believes “We need a more nuanced, inclusive and sensitive approach to cancer to transform the ways in which women in all diversity interact with the healthcare system, as patients, family members and health care professionals.”

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: “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.”

Recommendations in the study have been set out for health workers to avoid impeding the combatting of unequal gender dynamics and to “level the playing field.”