A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that the number of women dying from cancer in 2030 is set to increase by almost 60 per cent to 5.5 million deaths a year from the 3.5 million women who lost their lives in 2012. The report was presented earlier this week at the World Cancer Congress in Paris.
Women from low and middle income countries, which includes India, are expected to see the highest increase of cancer-related deaths because of low awareness of the disease, inadequate health facilities, bad diets and increasing adoption of bad habits such as smoking.
Identifying cancer early is co-related with chances of survival, says the report, and in countries with limited healthcare, cancer is often identified at a stage when it has become too critical to treat. Survival for women coping with breast cancer is less than 60 per cent in India, says the report.
The report finds that breast cancer is the second biggest cause of death in women worldwide. In developing countries, cases of breast and cervical cancer are projected to increase the most. Almost 90% of cervical cancer deaths in the world occur in developing countries, and India accounts for 25% of the total cases!
According to Cancer India, cervical cancer accounts for 22.86 per cent of all cancer cases in India. The survey states that most women get diagnosed with the cancer only in its last stage.
This is because of changing sexual practices and inadequate screening. The main risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with HPV virus, which is acquired via sexual intercourse. According to the study, 10.4 of women worldwide will have the HPV infection at a given time.
Often women in India neglect going for screening because they are not educated about cervical cancer. In rural India, only 10-20 per cent of women are aware of cervical cancer. Even women in urban India are not adequately informed.
“Most women in India, educated or otherwise will tell you that they haven’t had a Pap test, ever,” the head of preventive oncology department at Tata Memorial Hospital, Dr Surendra Shastri, told Mint. Most women are not aware that in order to be adequately screened they must also take the HPV test, in addition to the Pap test.
“Nowadays, with more pre-marital sex and women changing sexual partners, they are more prone to getting the HPV infection which is one of the most important causes of cervical cancer,” gynaecologist Dr Sangeeta Agrawal told SheThePeople.TV.
She said that the HPV vaccine should ideally be administered to girls between the ages of 9 and 16. However, parents are not open to their daughters receiving the vaccine because they insist that their child will not need it as they project that she will have one monogamous relationship after marriage, said Agrawal. The vaccine is also expensive, and people do not want to spend on preventive medicine, she added.
“There is a total lack of awareness.” said Agrawal. Even if patients do get screened, they might not submit their results to a laboratory for examination, because they will have to pay. The issue of the vaccine’s cost highlights the government’s failure to implement a nationwide HPV immunisation campaign.
There has been a huge push for breast cancer awareness: the campaign is branded by the recognisable pink ribbon, and many celebrities have spoken out about the importance of getting tested and being vigilant. Hopefully, the conversation around cervical cancer awareness will increase as more studies about different types of cancer become publicly available, and as more people speak out about the importance of taking the vaccine and getting screened.