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New multi-sector partnership seeks to reduce cervical and breast cancer in the Americas
Feb 8, 2013 - 4:47:16 PM

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Washington, D.C. (PAHO/WHO) A new initiative launched at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) this week brings together partners from different sectors to step up action for the prevention and control of cervical and breast cancer, the leading women’s cancers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The “Women’s Cancer Initiative: A joint commitment to save lives” is an alliance of public and private organizations that will carry out joint efforts in areas including advocacy and communication; capacity building for detection, diagnosis, treatment and care in health services; improved access to services and treatment; wider vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV); and expanded research.

More than 400,000 new cases of cervical and breast cancer (80,710 and 320,000, respectively) are diagnosed in the Americas and some 120,000 women die from these cancers (36,100 and 82,550, respectively) each year. By 2030, the annual number of new cases in Latin America and the Caribbean is projected to increase 70% (from 114,900 to 199,300 cases of breast cancer, and 68,220 to 111,000 cases of cervical cancer). 

“For a public health problem of this magnitude, and given that we have the know-how and technology to save lives, we urgently need all sectors of society to work together to help ensure equitable access to cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean "are dying disproportionately from these types of cancer, the two that affect them most,” warned Silvana Luciani, PAHO/WHO advisor on cancer prevention and control. While North America records nearly twice as many new breast cancer cases each year as Latin America and the Caribbean (205,500 versus 114,900), the number of deaths in the two subregions are much closer (45,600 in North America and 36,950 in Latin America and the Caribbean). “This reflects inequity in access to health services and treatment,” Luciani explained.

Existing strategies that target these cancers include innovative approaches that try to empower women to seek early diagnosis and that utilize new cervical cancer screening tests that are being used widely in developed countries but less so in developing ones. “We want to reduce the time gap between introduction of these new technologies in our region," said Luciani. 

Also important is expanded access to HPV vaccines, which evidence suggests are safe and effective in preventing cervical cancer and pre-cancerous lesions. Currently, HPV vaccine is being made available to all adolescent girls in Argentina, Canada, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Universal use of the vaccine could prevent as much as 70% of cervical cancer cases.  

The Women’s Cancer Initiative is being organized by the Pan American Forum of Action on the Non-communicable Diseases (PAFNCDs), which brings together representatives of governments, academia, civil society, and the private sector to fight the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases in the Americas. Members include ministries of health from throughout the Americas as well as the National Cancer Institutes Network (RINC/UNASUR), the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Basic Health International, the Canadian Partnership against Cancer, Grounds for Health, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the CIMAB Foundation, and the Global Task Force for Cancer Control in Developing Countries of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative. 

Other participants include the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, FEMAMA, the Albert & Mary Lasker Foundation, LIVESTRONG Foundation, the International Union for Cancer Control, NIH Foundation, JHPIEGO, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation, PATH, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Becton Dickinson & Co., Merck, Pfizer, Policy Wisdom, Qiagen, Roche, phRMA, Spectrum, and GSK. 

PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.  

Facts and figures

Breast cancer

  • In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), breast cancer ranks first among women’s cancers in terms of both cases and deaths.
  • In the Americas, more than 320,000 women were diagnosed and more than 82,000 died from breast cancer in 2008.
  • By 2030, the number of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer is projected to increase 70% in LAC if current trends continue.
  • In LAC, a higher proportion (58%) of breast cancer deaths are in women under age 65 as compared with North America (42%).
  • Nearly half of breast cancer deaths in the hemisphere occur in LAC.
  • Earlier diagnosis and advances in treatment have led to better outcomes and longer survival for women with breast cancer.
  • When diagnosis is delayed and severe illness results, palliative care is needed to mitigate the suffering of patients and their families.
  • Integrated programs that include education, screening and early detection, treatment and palliative care are critical to reducing the burden of breast cancer.

Cervical cancer

  • Cervical cancer is the second-leading cancer in women of all ages in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
  • It is highly preventable.
  • Over 80,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the Americas in 2008.
  • Nearly 36,000 died from the disease in the Americas in 2008. Most of these deaths (88%) occurred in LAC.
  • Cervical cancer mortality rates are seven times higher in LAC than in North America.
  • Screening women for cervical pre-cancer, followed by treatment, is a cost-effective intervention to prevent cervical cancer.
  • An estimated 70% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented through HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination of adolescent girls.

PAHO action

PAHO is working with its member countries to establish and sustain comprehensive cancer control programs. In addition to its advocacy and communication efforts, PAHO/WHO is promoting evidence-based guidelines for breast cancer care, integrating breast health awareness into chronic illness primary care interventions, providing technical assistance to improve the quality of and access to mammography and radiotherapy services, and generally strengthening capacity for cancer treatment in the region.

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