PLANO, Texas — The World Health Organization announced a new collaboration across different U.N. and partner organizations aimed at decreasing global breast cancer mortality by 2.5% a year until 2040. The Global Breast Cancer Initiative is an effort that is vital as escalating breast cancer rates now make it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world. In 2020, there were more than two million new breast cancer cases and more than 600,000 new deaths caused by breast cancer. Developing countries have been the more prominent source of the spike in overall cases, experiencing a 17% higher breast cancer mortality rate in comparison to developed countries.
Breast Cancer in Developing Countries
A lack of awareness, support and funding for breast cancer screenings in developing countries contributes to the higher mortality rate. Developing countries only receive 5% of all worldwide spending on breast cancer screenings and frequently face other pressing healthcare problems like prevalent infectious diseases.
Additionally, breast self-examinations and clinical breast examinations are uncommon. In fact, public awareness of breast cancer is an issue itself in some developing countries. In Bangladesh, for example, only 59% of women knew what breast cancer was and only 29% knew what screening was. On top of that, just 4% of Bangladeshi women surveyed knew what a breast self-examination was.
Developing countries also do not widely perform mammograms due to overarching healthcare limitations. This includes barriers stemming from the cost of performing the test, the accessibility of health services in general and difficulties conducting follow-up tests.
This lack of overall resources in developing countries results in breast cancer diagnoses frequently occurring when tumors have already reached a more advanced or lethal stage. For instance, only 5% of all tumors in India received a clinical diagnosis at or before the stage one phase. To complicate matters further, breast cancer detection and care have also become more difficult during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as increased risks are involved in each area of treatment.
Global Breast Cancer and COVID-19
Since the pandemic began, delays in diagnoses and interruptions or abandonment of therapies to treat all forms of cancer have increased significantly, according to Dr. Andre Ilbawi from the WHO Department of Noncommunicable Diseases. He feels that this trend will most likely impact the total number of cancer-related deaths in years to come.
In general, treatments like chemotherapy for certain kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, result in weakened immune systems and potential lung problems as well. COVID-19 can exacerbate these areas of concern.
This has resulted in breast cancer specialists attempting to modify their care plans in order to decrease the patient’s risk of COVID-19 exposure. Some international societies and organizations have tried to tackle these issues related to breast cancer care, yet the proposed solutions are far more applicable to developed countries compared to developing countries that lack the same quality and quantity of healthcare resources.
WHO’s Global Breast Cancer Initiative
WHO’s new initiative aimed at fighting global breast cancer targets the factors that have led to higher mortality rates in low-income or developing countries. The initiative looks to create a more unified approach to recognizing breast cancer as a healthcare priority around the world by providing countries with critical guidance on how to improve systems related to diagnosing and treating breast cancer.
The program will first target public education and risk-reduction strategies related to breast cancer while also tackling some of the stigmas surrounding breast health in certain areas of the world. Countries will receive access to online learning platforms and other types of support to aid these efforts.
The initiative will work toward improving timely global breast cancer diagnoses around the world in addition to improving access to treatments and care after the diagnosis. For example, WHO has started providing guidance on securing radiotherapy tools, a key treatment method that many developing countries lack, through a jointly published piece with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Global Breast Cancer Initiative’s Impact
By providing such assistance, WHO is hoping to not only make a difference in the fight against global breast cancer but also help combat all forms of cancer around the world through the support of this initiative. WHO looks to play a significant role in combating breast cancer worldwide by empowering countries in need with the tools necessary to increase survival rates through early detection and improved treatment measures.
– Brett Grega