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Developing World Faces Breast Cancer Surge, Study Suggests

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A new global study commissioned by GE Healthcare has revealed the extent to which breast cancer is affecting the developing world as incidence rates have steadily increased in developed countries over the last 50 years. A larger version of the infographic can be viewed here.

A new global study commissioned by GE Healthcare has revealed the extent to which breast cancer is affecting the developing world as incidence rates have steadily increased in developed countries over the last 50 years. The increase in life expectancy and lifestyle changes such as women having fewer children, as well as hormonal intervention such as post-menopausal hormonal therapy have been identified as contributing factors.

The study reveals that women in newly industrialized countries are reluctant to attend screenings until it is too late. The results suggest this could lead to an accumulation of challenges at a later stage, in which the disease is harder to treat and appropriate treatment is harder to access.

Report co-author Bengt Jönsson, Professor in Health Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics said that health systems and policymakers in these countries needed to work hard to address this ‘ticking time bomb.’ According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority (69%) of all breast cancer deaths occurs in developing countries.*

While mammography screening has been identified as the most effective method of detecting the cancer in its earliest stages it is also very complex and resource intensive, which inevitably places an unsustainable strain on a country’s healthcare system.

This has led to a drive within industrialized nations to raise general public awareness on the breast cancer problem. However, GE Healthcare’s study has shown that consumer understanding about breast cancer and screening methods is putting lives at risk in the developing world. For example, a recent survey in Mexico City indicated many women feel uncomfortable or worried about having a mammogram. **

“It is of great concern that women in newly industrialized countries are reluctant to get checked out until it is too late,” said Claire Goodliffe, Global Oncology Director for GE Healthcare. “This is why GE is working with a number of governments and health ministries in these regions to expand access to screening and improve consumer awareness. Some of these initiatives, including a programme with the Saudi Ministry of Health, are making excellent progress.”

The study also draws some interesting conclusions about the impact of breast cancer on sufferers’ lives. According to the most recent published data, 15 million years of ‘healthy life’ were lost worldwide in 2008 due to women dying early or being ill with the disease.***

Women in Africa, China and the USA lost the most years of healthy life. Furthermore, of the 15 million years lost globally, more than 3 times as many years were lost due to dying than being ill with the disease, For women in Africa, Russia, Mexico, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the number of healthy years lost due to death were up to 7 times greater than elsewhere in the world.***

“The report findings suggest that a worryingly high proportion of women are still dying from breast cancer across the world and this seems to correlate strongly with access the breast screening programmes and expenditure on healthcare,” said Jönsson.

 

Quality of Life is Affected


The report comments that as the rates of breast cancer increase in developed countries over the last 50 years, the emphasis has been on the survival prospects of the patient. However as survival rates improve, a woman’s quality of life is being negatively affected. Doctors are now being encouraged to concentrate on assessing the impact of diagnosis and treatment on survivors’ quality of life to identify the challenges patients may encounter and how these can be overcome.

“This report finds a direct link between survival rates in countries and the stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed,” said Goodliffe. “It provides further evidence of the need for early detection and treatment which we welcome given current controversies about the relative harms, benefits and cost effectiveness of breast cancer screening.”

 

 

References

* http://www.who.int/cancer/detection/breastcancer/en/index1.html
** Source: Webb, M. L., Cady, B., Michaelson, J. S., Bush, D. M., Calvillo, K. Z., Kopans, D. B. and Smith, B. L. (2013), A failure analysis of invasive breast cancer. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.2819, and Perry et al European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis: Fourth Edition http://www.euref.org/european guidelines
*** http://globocan.iarc.fr

(‘Healthy life lost’ is defined by years lost due to premature death and being incapacitated by the effects of breast cancer.)