Breast Cancer Death Rates Soar In Developing Nations, Where Women Can’t Access Affordable Treatment

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bikas Das

A fundraiser for breast cancer cure efforts in Kolkata, India

Global cancer deaths rose by eight percent to 8.2 million between 2008 and 2012, according to a new report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Breast cancer diagnoses in particular have risen sharply in developing nations, and deaths from breast cancer are up by 14 percent since 2008.

Researchers say that breast cancer is now “the most common cause of cancer death among women (522,000 deaths in 2012) and the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries worldwide.” One in four of all women diagnosed with cancer have breast cancer.

Although breast cancer is still diagnosed at higher levels in developed nations, a far higher proportion of women who die from it live in poorer countries. IARC experts speculate that modern Western-influenced lifestyle changes in developing nations, such as shifts in diet and hormones, are causing the uptick in breast cancer cases. Unfortunately, access to effective preventive and treatment efforts remain scarce in these countries.

“Breast cancer is… a leading cause of cancer death in the less developed countries of the world,” said Dr. David Forman, an IARC official who helped compile the study, in a press release. “This is partly because a shift in lifestyles is causing an increase in incidence, and partly because clinical advances to combat the disease are not reaching women living in these regions.”

The IARC concludes that robust national screening efforts and cheaper cancer drugs are vital to addressing disparities in breast cancer among rich and poor nations.

“An urgent need in cancer control today is to develop effective and affordable approaches to the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer among women living in less developed countries,” said IARC director Dr. Christopher Wild.

Cancer isn’t the only disease to increasingly affect developing countries as they modernize. Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) recently announced that the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s worldwide will more than double by 2050 as those in poor nations live longer and longer.