As cancer rates continue to rise globally, cancers that affect women, specifically breast and cervical cancer, are becoming more widespread and impactful.
The incidence of breast cancer is increasing worldwide, and it is now the most common cancer diagnosed in women. More women are also being diagnosed with cervical cancer and are dying from the disease.
This has become a major problem in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region where women are heavily affected by both diseases due to factors such as inadequate screening, lack of awareness, and late diagnosis, among others.
The APAC Women’s Cancer Coalition said there is an urgent need to address breast and cervical cancer in the Asia Pacific region as it accounts for the biggest share of incidence and mortality of both cancers globally.
Taking this into account, the APAC Women’s Cancer Coalition, supported by Roche, commissioned the Economist Impact to analyze cancer policies and programs in six countries in the APAC region—India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines.
These countries are bracing for a rise in breast and cervical cancer incidence and mortality that could match or even exceed the expected regional and global averages. Thus, they need to take steps to address this issue and to meet the targets set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem and to reduce the incidence of breast cancer. These targets are clearly outlined in the WHO’s Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer and the WHO Global breast cancer initiative.
In the Economist Impact report “Impact and opportunity: the case for investing in women’s cancers in Asia Pacific,” the burden of women’s cancer, specifically breast and cervical cancer, is examined in the six countries mentioned. The progress of these six countries in tackling breast and cervical cancer was also assessed across five domains—policy and planning, prevention and screening, diagnosis and resource capacity, treatment and access, and awareness and education.
The global, evidence-led Economist Impact conducted an evidence review, formed an advisory board, and discussed with experts to inform the design of the scorecard. Among the experts who contributed to the research are Dr. Corazon A Ngelangel, President of the Philippine Cancer Society, and Ingrid Magnata, Country Program Manager, Jhpiego, Philippines. Jhpiego is an international, non-profit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.
Across all domains, none of the six countries achieved high scores all round. All six countries have room for improvement especially in terms of diagnosis and resource capacity.
The Philippines scored moderately low in policy and planning, diagnosis and resource capacity, and treatment and access. It scored moderately high in the other two domain—prevention and screening and awareness and education.
Before giving recommendations, the study cited the problem usually observed in these countries which is late diagnosis. Both breast cancer and cervical cancer are often diagnosed too late “leading to direct and indirect healthcare costs, higher burdens for patients, and higher mortality rates.” And once a diagnosis is made, patients still face difficulties in accessing care and the treatment they need.
The report identified several key steps to help the six countries reverse the trend and achieve the WHO cervical cancer and breast cancer targets.
“Countries must demonstrate greater political will and leadership, and implement and update national elimination plans and strategies to align with WHO targets for cervical and breast cancer.”
The other recommendations are “enhance performance tracking by building immunization, screening and patient outcome registries for cervical and breast cancer; Focus on primary prevention by rolling out national immunization programs [HPV immunization for cervical cancer] and secondary prevention by rolling out organized population-based national screening programs [for both cervical and breast cancer]; and Referral and treatment pathways for patients should be clear and well-defined.”
Likewise, governments should make women’s cancers a priority in their policies in order to achieve national goals for vaccination, screening, and treatment. Governments and global funding organizations should also develop and implement effective and sustainable funding mechanisms.
Services and programs should be focused on the needs of the patient and should be tailored to the specific needs of the population in which they are being delivered.
The report also recommended that these countries consider integrated, holistic approaches to address the challenge of limited resources and capacity.
By implementing these measures, emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region will be better equipped to address the increasing burden of breast and cervical cancer, as well as a range of other health challenges.