“Women, Power and Cancer”, a study published in The Lancet, reports that over 63% of cancer deaths in Indian women might have been avoided with early detection and over 37% could have been treated with optimal care.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially in low and middle-income countries that lack equitable access to health information, early diagnosis, and access to affordable and curative healthcare services.
Apathy leads to more than half of cancer deaths
In India, women shoulder the majority burden of unpaid caregiving work, which ranges from child rearing to care for older adults and the diseased. But when it comes to prioritizing their own health and healthcare concerns, they’re put on the back burner, or put it off for later themselves, until it’s almost too late for a cure.
“Women interact with cancer in various ways, not only as people living with the disease but also as unpaid caregivers, individuals participating in cancer prevention and screening at the national level, healthcare providers, researchers and policy makers.”Dr. Ishu Kataria
The end result of this avoidance and ‘lack of care’ has come home to roost since not all cancers lead to death when detected early. According to The Lancet report, more than 63% of cancer deaths could have been prevented with early diagnosis and more than 37% could have been treated with timely care. Ironically, the value of unpaid cancer caregiving work, the domain of women in Indian households, was 2.53% of the country’s total health expenditure.
Healthcare professionals weigh-in
According to healthcare professionals, early cancer detection can help avoid up to 85% of cancer deaths. Lack of societal care, health information, and access to expertise at the primary care level delay early cancer detection and optimal treatment until it is too late.
Several studies highlight gender disparities in diagnosis and treatment for different types of cancer and other health concerns including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This lack of care and incumbent apathy towards women’s health does not only stem from women themselves but also their families and healthcare professionals. Additionally, women from disadvantaged backgrounds bear the added weight of their healthcare needs being dismissed under the guise of ‘suffering is desirable’.
The way forward
“We need cancer to be seen as a priority issue in women’s health…In this context, they face gender bias and discrimination on multiple fronts, be it due to their age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This hinders their ability to seek good quality care for both diagnosis and treatment.” said Dr Ishu Kataria, Commissioner, The Lancet.
As per a study published in The Lancet in 2018, the most common types of cancer in India with the highest disease burden are stomach, breast, lung, lip, and oral cavity, followed by pharynx, colon and rectum, leukemia, cervical, esophageal, brain and nervous system cancers.
Educating people about early detection and affordable treatment can prevent cancer deaths in India.