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Cancer burden shifting to low income nations

Some developing countries are seeing a rise in breast cancer of more than 7.5 per cent per year - a rate that is more than twice the global rate.

A new report has found that while women in high-income countries benefit from medical advances, an increasing number of women in the developing world are dying of breast and cervical cancer at a young age.

Women in the developed world are benefiting from early cancer screenings, drug therapies and vaccines, said Rafael Lozano, Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

"We are seeing the burden of breast and cervical cancer shifting to low-income countries in Africa and Asia. This is one of the early signs of the emerging threat of non-communicable diseases in these countries. Everyone has been talking about that threat. Now the trend is clear."

The paper, published in the prestigious Lancet journal, was also co-authored by Professor Alan Lopez from the University of Queensland's School of Population Health.

In 1980, 65 per cent of all breast cancer cases were in developed countries. By 2010, the share of breast cancer cases in the developed world reduced to less than half, with the majority of cases now found in developing countries. Some developing countries saw a rise in breast cancer cases of more than 7.5 per cent per year - a rate that is more than twice the global rate.

The risk of cervical cancer is much higher in developing countries. Overall, 76 per cent of new cervical cancer cases occur in developing regions. Sub-Saharan Africa alone makes up 22 per cent of all cervical cancer cases, or more than 76,000 in 2010.

"If more women are developing breast and cervical cancer during their reproductive years, this adds more pressure on families and societies already suffering from high rates of infectious disease and child mortality," said Dr Mohammed Forouzanfar, the paper's lead author and an IHME Postgraduate Fellow.

In the past, complications from pregnancy and childbirth were among the leading causes of death in women under age 50. Based on current trends, breast and cervical cancer are likely to soon approach maternal causes of death in developing countries. In the Middle East and North Africa, for example, nearly 40 per cent of all breast cancer deaths are in women of reproductive age, compared to 10 per cent in much of Europe. In countries such as Bangladesh, the percentage is higher than 50 per cent.

"Breast and cervical cancer need to become a standard part of the global efforts aimed at saving more mothers' lives," said Lopez. Full report: www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org.

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