India lags on breast cancer survival: WHO

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 Rohit Shishodia
Breast cancer survival five years after diagnosis now exceeds 80% in most high-income countries, compared with 66% in India and just 40% in South Africa, reports the World Health Organization.

These figures were released by the WHO during the introduction of the Global Breast Cancer Initiative on March 8, 2021. The objective of this initiative is reducing global breast cancer mortality by 2.5% per year until 2040, thereby averting an estimated 2.5 million deaths.

Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO, said, “Although we have seen substantive progress in reducing breast cancer mortality in many high-income countries during the last two decades, little progress has been made in low-and middle-income countries.”

“The higher mortality in these lower-income countries is a result of late-stage diagnosis and inadequate access to quality care. Together, we can address this unacceptable inequity,” said Dr Mikkelsen.

The WHO has pointed out that the premature deaths and high out-of-pocket expenditure that arise when breast cancer services are unavailable or unaffordable result in social disruption, impoverishment, family instability and orphaned children and also threaten economic growth.

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) informed that breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the world’s most commonly-diagnosed cancer, and is responsible for one in six of all cancer deaths among women.

WHO, in association with other UN agencies and partner organizations, will provide guidance to governments on how to strengthen systems for diagnosing and treating breast cancer, which in turn is expected to lead to improved capacities to manage other types of cancer.   

The WHO’s guidance includes health promotion, timely diagnosis and comprehensive treatment.

Health promotion emphasizes on public education about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, risk reduction strategies (such as avoiding obesity, limiting alcohol intake and encouraging breastfeeding), and reducing the stigma associated with breast health that exists in some parts of the world.

The timely breast cancer diagnosis should reduce delays between the time a patient first interacts with the health system and the initiation of breast cancer treatment.

"Although breast tumours do not change in days or weeks, cancer survival rates begin to erode when delays to initiate treatment are greater than three months. Current delays in some settings and among certain vulnerable populations can be more than a year. Basic diagnostic services are feasible in all settings, so long as they are well-organized and lead to timely referral for specialist care," says the guidance.

"Comprehensive treatment and care for breast cancer treatment should include access to surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy as well as rehabilitation support for women following treatment and palliative services to reduce pain and discomfort," reads the guidence.

“Global partners, experts and other organizations will be convened through the Initiative to map existing activities, develop roadmaps, and establish multisectoral working groups to address health promotion and early detection, timely breast cancer diagnosis, and comprehensive breast cancer treatment and supportive care,” said Dr Ben Anderson.

“The demand for a global approach, that brings together the best expertise on breast cancer control from around the world, is high, as is the excitement about what can be achieved,” said Dr Anderson.


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