Women worldwide increasingly likely to die of cancer

November 4, 2016 Providence Health Team

Cancer deaths among women worldwide are on the rise, though the news has been more encouraging in the United States. A new study that examines cancer rates and patterns around the world has found that many women in emerging economies are adopting unhealthy habits, such as smoking, contributing to a rise in death rates.

The study, presented by the American Cancer Society at the World Cancer Congress in Paris, includes a range of recommended policy approaches to reduce cancer’s burden. Among them:

  • Curb smoking through regulation, taxation, education and cessation assistance
  • Promote vaccination with the HPV and HBV vaccines, which can prevent cancer of the cervix and liver
  • Promote access to health care for women, especially screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer
  • Educate women through cancer awareness campaigns and health promotion programs

A brighter outlook in the United States

Trends in the United States are more encouraging. Breast cancer is the deadliest cancer for women in North America, but the rate of cancer cases per 100,000 women has declined or stabilized over the last 15 years. The study’s authors attribute this to breast cancer screenings and better treatments, which are more accessible than in many low- or middle-income countries.

Breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in North America, but it’s often diagnosed at an earlier stage, when the prospect of recovery is highest, than in many lower-income countries.

Also, cervical cancer is less of a scourge in North America than it is in developing countries, where 90 percent of cervical cancer deaths occur. Again, the authors attribute the better rate to regular screening.

Lung cancer death rates have peaked or are declining in places where women have been smoking the longest, including Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. But lung cancer death rates for women are rising in Europe and Latin America, where women generally started smoking later. In lower- and middle-income countries where it’s less common for women to smoke, the authors say, swift and effective tobacco control measures could prevent an increase in lung cancer deaths.

The United States has one worrisome trend: one of the world’s highest rates for cancer among postmenopausal women who are overweight. The authors say these women can reduce their risk of cancer by losing weight, engaging in more physical activity and drinking less.

To learn more

Talk to your health care provider about your health, including vaccinations and cancer screenings, to make sure you’ve taken the steps you can to protect yourself from cancer. You can find a Providence provider here.

The American Cancer Society made its presentation at the Global Cancer Congress. You can read the report, “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women,” at the ACS website.

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