Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Bridging Gender Gaps in Cancer Care: The Lancet Commission Report


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Gender Gaps in Cancer

women cancer

Central Idea

  • The Lancet Commission report ‘Women, Power and Cancer’ spotlights the gender disparities in cancer care that persist in India.

Women dying of Cancer: Alarming Statistics

  • The report emphasizes that approximately 6.9 million cancer-related deaths among Indian women were preventable, and 4.03 million were treatable.
  • It revealed that a staggering 63% of premature cancer-related deaths in Indian women could have been prevented through risk reduction, screening, and early diagnosis.
  • 37% could have been averted through timely and optimal treatment.

Understanding the Gender Gap

  • Cancer Incidence and Mortality: Despite men being at a higher risk of certain cancers affecting both genders, women continue to face a significant burden of cancer incidence and mortality. Globally, women account for 48% of new cancer cases and 44% of cancer-related deaths. This happens even though some of the cancers in women, such as breast and cervical cancers, are highly preventable and treatable.
  • Root Causes: The report attributes this gender gap in cancer outcomes to several factors, including limited access to timely and appropriate care due to disparities in knowledge, decision-making power, and financial resources. Women, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, often lack the necessary information and autonomy for informed decision-making in healthcare.
  • Financial Strain: Additionally, women are more likely than men to experience financial devastation due to cancer-related expenses, compounding the challenges they face.

Challenges in Cancer Care for Women

  • Underrepresentation: The report underscores that women are underrepresented in leadership roles in the field of cancer care. They are also susceptible to gender-based discrimination and harassment, making it a complex environment for women to thrive.
  • Unrecognized Contributions: Shockingly, women constitute the largest unpaid workforce in cancer care, with their contributions estimated to be worth approximately 3.66% of India’s national health expenditure.

Expert Insights

  • Healthcare-Seeking Behavior: A healthcare expert highlights the impact of gendered healthcare-seeking behavior. Women, particularly in disadvantaged sections of society, tend to exhibit lower healthcare-seeking behavior, impacting their overall health outcomes.
  • Societal Changes: Beyond medical knowledge, societal changes are crucial. Women often hesitate to consult medical professionals for conditions like breast or cervical cancer, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Significance of Screening

  • Preventable and Treatable Cancers: Breast and cervical cancers, two of the most common cancers in women, are highly preventable and treatable. Experts emphasize the importance of regular screenings.
  • Early Detection: Self-examination of breasts, annual clinical examinations by a medical professional, and mammography for women over 40 can aid in early breast cancer detection. For cervical cancer, regular screenings can identify pre-cancerous growth and the presence of the human papillomavirus.

Government Interventions

  • Awareness Campaigns: Experts underscore the need for government-led awareness campaigns to promote cancer prevention and early detection, similar to those for other health initiatives.
  • Vaccination Programs: The government’s initiative to include vaccination programs for young girls is a positive step in reducing cancer incidence.
  • Primary Health Centers: Experts highlight the potential for primary health centers to play a more significant role in cancer diagnosis and early treatment, particularly for cervical cancer.

Recommendations from the Report

  • Data Collection: Regularly collecting gender and social demographic data for cancer health statistics is crucial.
  • Policy Development: Developing, strengthening, and enforcing policies that reduce known cancer risks is essential.
  • Equitable Access: The report calls for equitable access to cancer research resources, leadership roles, and funding opportunities for women, addressing the gender imbalance in cancer care and research.

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