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27 September 2023

Focus on women, power and gender to transform cancer care, says Lancet report

The new report, co-authored by a King’s academic, says that cancer in women is overlooked despite being among top three causes of premature death in women across the world.

Dying woman with cancer in hospital bed

A new report says that cancer ranks in the top three causes of premature death in women in almost every country, but cancer as a whole is overlooked because of a greater focus on women’s reproductive and maternal health.

The Lancet Commission calls for women, power and gender to be included in all cancer-related policies and guidelines, making them responsive to the needs and aspirations of all women, whether they be cancer patients, care providers, researchers, or advocates.

“Cancer in women often goes unrecognised and has far-reaching consequences for families and to society more broadly,” says one of the report’s authors, Professor Carlo Caduff, from the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine.

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.

Professor Carlo Caduff, Professor in Global Health and Social Medicine

Of the 3 million adults diagnosed with cancer under the age of 50 in 2020, two out of three were women, he added.

The new report, 'Women, power, and cancer: A Lancet Commission', brings together a multidisciplinary and diverse team from around the globe, including scholars with expertise in gender studies, human rights, law, economics, social sciences, cancer epidemiology, prevention, and treatment, as well as patient advocates, to analyse how women around the world experience cancer, and to provide recommendations to policy makers, governments, civil society, and health and social care systems.

Discussion about cancer in women often focuses on ‘women’s cancers’, such as breast and cervical cancer, but about 300,000 women under 70 die each year from lung cancer, and 160,000 from colorectal cancer: two of the top three causes of cancer death among women, globally. For the last few decades in many high-income countries, deaths from lung cancer in women have in fact been higher than deaths from breast cancer.

The report also shows how gender inequality impacts women’s experiences as cancer patients, and even for those working in cancer care, treatment and research.

Globally, it says, women are more likely than men to have fewer financial resources to help cope with cancer-related financial challenges and that unpaid caregiving is largely undertaken by women. Within the cancer workforce, women face discrimination and are generally underrepresented in leadership positions.

The study includes a new analysis of existing research which suggests women can experience unconscious gender biases and discrimination within health systems. These gender biases can be intensified by ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“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,” Professor Caduff said. 

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Carlo Caduff

Professor in Global Health and Social Medicine

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