Across the globe, cancer is the second leading cause of death among women, with breast, colorectal, lung and cervical cancers claiming the most lives annually. In the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific regions, cancer takes the life of one in seven women every year. But what was once primarily a concern in high-income countries has become a public health concern throughout the world, and women are disproportionately affected. 

A global burden

A report released in November 2016 by the American Cancer Society and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany examined the increasing impact of cancer among women in low and middle-income countries. With cancer rates on the rise as the global population grows and ages, the number of women who will die of cancer is expected to increase. In 2012, there were 3.5 million deaths among women due to cancer; by 2030, that number is expected to increase to 5.5 million deaths — a more than 57 percent increase in less than two decades.  

The report also looked at the economic impact of cancer in women. It found that in 2009, the global economic burden of cancer was estimated at about $286 billion — much of that cost was due to premature death of members of the workforce. Approximately 865 million women worldwide have the potential to contribute more fully to their economies but cannot because of health and well-being issues.

"In 2012, there were 3.5 million deaths among women due to cancer; by 2030, that number is expected to increase to 5.5 million deaths."

A global remedy

Increased education and prevention efforts will be essential to addressing this growing global health crisis. With that in mind, the American Cancer Society created the All of Me program.  The program is focused on working with partner organizations in Latin America to offer women and girls opportunities to gain a more holistic understanding of, and approach to, their health in settings that have the potential to reach them most, such as primary and reproductive health facilities, communities and workplaces. To start, our emphasis is on preventing cervical cancer, detecting breast cancer early and reducing risk factors associated with these and other cancers such as tobacco and alcohol use, poor diets and physical inactivity. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is also supporting the program by funding a young scholar’s mentorship component.

It's incumbent upon both the public and private sectors to collaborate as such and find ways to reduce the impacts of cancer on women by increasing education, prevention and treatment. About 5.5 million lives may depend on it.