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Lancet Commission Report on Gender Inequity in Cancer Care in India

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  • Context (IE | IE): A new Lancet Commission report on gender inequity in cancer care shows a grim picture of the cancer care of Indian women.
  • Cancer: It is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control.

Findings of the Report

  • In Indian women, 63% of early cancer deaths could have been prevented through screening and diagnosis, while 37% was preventable through prompt and optimal treatment.
  • Despite men having a higher risk of certain gender-neutral cancers, cancer incidence and mortality among women remain high.
  • Globally, women make up 48% of new cancer cases and 44% of cancer deaths, despite some cancers in women (like breast and cervical cancers) being highly preventable and treatable.

Data on cancer and Indian women Types of Cancer

Reasons Behind Poorer Cancer Care for Women in India

  • Limited Awareness: Lack of awareness among women about cancer risk factors, symptoms, and the importance of early detection can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
  • Lack of Decision-making Power: In most Indian households, the decision-making power rests with the males. Due to this, women cannot make decisions regarding their health at an individual level.
  • Financial Barriers: Most of the women are not financially independent. They also constitute the most significant unpaid workforce.
  • Cultural and Social Stigma: Cultural beliefs and social stigma can deter women from seeking cancer care. Some women may avoid screening or treatment due to fear, shame, or cultural norms.
  • Gender Bias: The health of the males is prioritised over females. Women’s symptoms may be dismissed or not taken as seriously as men’s, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
  • Insufficient Healthcare Resources: In some areas, there may be a shortage of healthcare facilities (like in NE states), trained healthcare professionals, and medical equipment.
  • Socioeconomic Disparities: Women from disadvantaged groups have the least access to healthcare.
  • Healthcare Policy and Funding: Inadequate funding for cancer care and healthcare policies that do not prioritise women’s health can contribute to suboptimal care.

Way Ahead

  • Awareness campaigns: To educate women to remove socio-cultural stigmas associated with cancer.
  • Cancer Research: Cancer care and research are dominated by men, so equitable access to cancer research resources, leadership, and funding opportunities for women should be created.
  • Human papillomavirus vaccines (HPV) Vaccination: An indigenous vaccine for the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer is already available. (There are no vaccines for other cancers)

Cervical Cancer

  • Cervical cancer starts in the cervix and is caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
  • HPV is a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Cervix: It connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus (womb).
  • Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women.
  • It occurs mainly in women over age 30.
  • It is a preventable and curable disease (if detected early and managed effectively).
  • HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer if given before girls or women are exposed to the virus.

Cervavac

  • Cervavac is India’s first indigenously-developed Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus (qHPV) vaccine against cervical cancer.
  • qHPV vaccine: It protects from 4 types of HPV, which cause 80% of cervical cancer.
  • Cervavac will be administered to girls between 9 and 14 years to prevent cervical cancer.
  • Significance:
    • Globally, India contributes the largest share of cervical cancer cases.
    • It is also the second most common cancer in Indian women.
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