New Study Suggests Ways To Counteract Gender Inequalities In Breast Cancer Care
As we raise breast cancer awareness, a new report addressing women, power, and cancer finds that gender inequality and discrimination in society negatively influence women’s exposure to cancer risk factors, access to quality health information and services, and ability to cope with cancer-related financial challenges.
The commission, published by The Lancet, offers actionable solutions that illustrate just how much more progress needs to be made to improve outcomes for women with breast cancer, especially Black women. The study calls for a “new feminist agenda for cancer care to eliminate gender inequality; where health systems, cancer workforces, and research ecosystems are more inclusive and responsive to the needs of women in all their diversities, therefore reducing the global burden of cancer,” per a news release.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society estimated that more than 300,590 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 55,720 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ/stage 0 breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States. All patients with stage 0 breast cancer, considered not life-threatening, can essentially be cured.
“While there has been an overall 43 percent decline in breast cancer deaths over the last three decades—thanks to gains in awareness, earlier diagnoses, and more effective treatments—there is a persistent mortality gap between Black women and white women,” according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
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Here are some tips through the lens of a feminist approach:
Include sex and gender in all cancer-related policies and guidelines: The intersectionality of gender and race and its impact Black women’s health is also is important. Women who identify as African American of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity reported higher intersectional stigma than any other group. Stigma was associated with a 2.4-fold increased risk of delays for seeking breast cancer care compared to white, heterosexual, cis-women. Multiple studies indicate that gender biases can also lead to women receiving suboptimal care, such as reporting inadequate pain relief and being at a greater risk for undertreatment of pain than men.
Implement strategies to increase women’s awareness of cancer risk factors and symptoms: The Lancet commission states that there must be fair and equitable access to cancer care, research resources, leadership, and funding opportunities for women. Through training programs and leadership, the study suggests creating “accessible and responsive health systems that provide respectful, quality cancer care for women in all their diversities.” Approximately 2.3 million women die prematurely from cancer each year, and 1.5 million lives could be saved through the elimination of exposures to key risk factors or via early detection and diagnosis. An additional 800,000 deaths could be prevented if all women could access optimal cancer care, a press release stated.
There must be equal representation of women in leadership positions within the cancer workforce: Women are undervalued in the cancer workforce. Per data from the American Community Survey, Black women are more overrepresented than any other demographic group in health care, and they are heavily concentrated in some of its lowest-wage and most hazardous jobs. In addition, they are significantly underrepresented as leaders across research and policy organizations. As of 2022, Black women make up 6.9 percent of the labor force in the U.S. and 13.7 percent of the healthcare workforce. Out of these numbers, they also make up the majority of unpaid caregivers.