In India, when it comes to the rising number of cancer deaths in recent years, it seems poorer women are at greater risk. Two thirds of female cancer patients are from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Indian women account for around 30 percent of the country’s cancer burden. The most common cancers in women are breast cancer, which affected 144,937 women and killed 70,218 in 2012, and cervical cancer, with 122,000 new cases reported annually and 67,500 deaths. Cervical cancer accounts for more than eleven percent of cancer deaths in India.
The increasing rates of cancer seen in India are consistent with a worldwide trend in low and middle income countries (LMICs).Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and was responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015, according to the WHO. Globally, nearly 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.Tobacco usage has the greatest impact, causing approximately 22 percent of cancer related deaths.
Indian doctors have associated the fact that cancer is more prevalent among women of low socio-economic backgrounds with an increased likelihood of using tobacco products. They note that tobacco consumption, or the smoking of bidis is more common to these women, as well as a higher potential for poor dietary habits and unhealthy habits compared to wealthier women.
The combination of increased cancer risk factors have left poorer women more at risk of oral, lung, stomach, cervical and oesophageal cancer. Of these cancers both lung cancer and oral cancers can be directly linked to smoking habits.
“It is strictly advised for the women to stop smoking and chewing tobacco to eradicate the epidemic and contribute to India’s development. Even quitting the tobacco – the biggest factor for cancer – the patients can have 90 percent avoidance in cancer and other diseases”
For women in poverty, cancer presents itself as an even more lethal risk as treatment options may be severely limited due to their financial situation. More recent and effective methods of combating cancer, such as immunotherapy — noted for its effectiveness over chemotherapy in treating some late stage cancers — is mostly unaffordable in India.
“Prevention where possible and early detection are crucial as treatment of late stage cancer is often difficult in less developed settings,” said Dr Lalit Dandona, professor, Public Health Foundation of India. Limiting risk factors such as tobacco usage may be vital for the health of India’s poorest women.