World Cancer Day is celebrated on 4th February each year. The campaign theme for 2022-2024 is ‘Close the Care Gap’.
When it comes to cancer, many of us are denied basic care, despite the fact that we live in a time of awe-inspiring advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
This is the equity gap – and it’s costing lives. People who seek cancer care hit barriers at every turn. Income, education, geographical location and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle are just a few of the factors that can negatively affect care. The most disadvantaged groups are also more likely to have increased exposures to a host of other risk factors, like tobacco, unhealthy diet or environmental hazards.
The equity gap is a reality for all countries everywhere, high- and low-income alike, and negatively affects people from all walks of life.
- For white women in the US, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 71%. For black women, the rate is just 58%.
- In New Zealand, Māori are twice as likely to die from cancer as non-Māori.
- Childhood cancer survival rates are over 80% in high-income countries but as low as 20% in low-income countries.
- More than 90% of cervical cancer mortality occurs in low- and middle-income countries.
- Cancer kills nearly 10 million people a year and some 70% of those are aged 65 or older, yet older populations face disproportionate barriers to effective treatment.
- In refugee populations, cancer is more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage, leading to worse outcomes.
- Due in part to discrimination from healthcare practitioners, cancer screening among transgender people is lower than in the rest of the population.
- There are notable differences in cancer-related outcomes for rural and nonrural patients, even in high-income settings such as the US.
The gap affects everyone. You might feel like the equity gap doesn’t impact you personally, but it likely does affect someone you know. While it’s more pronounced in low- and middle-income countries, well-resourced countries show dramatic disparities too. It’s almost guaranteed that the gap affects you or people in your community.
Eight barriers that stand in the way of cancer care:
- Gender norms and discrimination
- Barriers for minority populations
- Poverty and socioeconomic status
- The rural-urban divide
- Refugee status and forced displacement
- Homophobia, transphobia, and related discrimination
- Barriers for care for people with disabilities
10 million people died of cancer in 2020. That’s equivalent to the population of Bangkok or twice the population of Ireland.
Up to 10% of cancers are related to genetic mutation. 27% of cancer deaths are from tobacco and alcohol use.
There are now 19.3 million new cases of cancer in a year. Yet 30-50% of all cancers are preventable. Reduce the risks of cancer with healthier behaviours, regular screening, earlier detection and timely treatment of pre-cancers.
Half the world’s population lacks access to the full range of essential health services and many are denied basic cancer care. Why? Due to differences in income and education levels, geographical location, and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle.
The cancer care gap is not inevitable. Our systems can be reimagined, a person’s situation can be improved, their knowledge about cancer can be increased and their access to services made easier.
Collectively, we can reduce inequity by:
- educating the public about cancer prevention;
- equipping healthcare professionals with skills and knowledge including about how inequity influences cancer care;
- strengthening primary health care delivered in communities;
- addressing through policy and programmes some of the social and economic factors that can negatively affect people’s health;
- increasing the resources – meaning both money and people – dedicated to cancer research, and tracking the burden of cancer nationally to more effectively shape our investments;
- implementing country-specific cancer prevention and control plans that address each country’s unique needs and resources.
Link to World Cancer Day website:
Link to WHO’s news release on Global Breast Cancer Initiative Framework: