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Breast-cancer mortality has declined thanks to more routine testing and early detection. Cancer is a leading cause of death globally. According to the World Health Organization, it accounted for nearly one in six deaths in 2020. Breast cancer was the most common type of cancer that year in terms of cases, which amounted to 2.26 million and resulted in 685,000 deaths, according to the WHO. The disease overwhelmingly impacts women (in the UK, for example, only about 1% of breast cancer cases are in males), and the WHO says there are more “lost disability-adjusted life years” by women to breast cancer globally than any other type of cancer. However, significant efforts are being made to advance early detection and treatment. Age-standardized breast cancer mortality declined by 40% in high-income countries between the 1980s and 2020, according to the WHO, which has reported that a screening every two years for women aged 50 to 69 can achieve a significant reduction in deaths. However, data from the 2020 Hologic Global Women’s Health Index, a survey of women in 116 countries, suggest that such preventative care and testing has generally been deficient. The survey asked women if they had been screened for cancer in the prior year, and overall just 12% said they had; that figure was actually in the single digits for roughly 40 countries and territories (in addition to breast cancer, other common types of cancer for women include skin, colorectal, uterine, ovarian, and cervical). These survey results may point to the impacts of the pandemic on access to healthcare infrastructure. However, even prior to the pandemic women often did not have access to adequate health services, due to social and economic inequality. One study published in 2022 by a researcher at the University of Geneva suggested that women in “more gender unequal contexts” have a higher probability of never screening and a lower probability of being on-schedule for mammography screening, for example. Another study published in 2020 in the International Journal for Equity in Health found that “resource-constrained countries” have the highest burden of cervical cancer, and that only a small portion of women in these countries utilize crucial screening services that can help prevent the disease.

Cancer Prevention and Control

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Women's Health