Breast and Cervical Cancer

The information here is provided by courtesy of the Network's short online course - "An Introduction to Global Health". 





  • Both these cancers are the most significant for women across the world.
  • Across the world as a whole, breast cancer takes a greater toll. 
  • In high income countries, while deaths from cervical cancer do occur, measures that they have been able to introduce have almost eliminated them. 



  • If you are in a low income country, cervical cancer is as or more important than breast cancer. For example, compare the positions for the UK and the Central African Republic below where cervical cancer is a more important cause of cancer death than breast cancer. (Figures 1 and 2) 


Figure 1





Figure 2 




Breast Cancer 


Globally, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women. It affects 2.1 million women each year, and also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer – that is approximately 15% of all cancer deaths among women. While breast cancer rates are higher among women in more developed regions, rates are increasing in nearly every region globally. 


In order to improve breast cancer outcomes and survival, early detection is critical. 


There are two early detection strategies for breast cancer 


  • early diagnosis
  • screening. 


Screening programmes are very resource intensive. Limited resource settings with weak health systems where the majority of women are diagnosed in late stages should prioritize early diagnosis programmes based on awareness of early signs and symptoms and prompt referral to diagnosis and treatment. 


Further Reading 


WHO : Cancer - Breast Cancer

WHO : Breast Cancer - Prevention and Control



Cervical Cancer


Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, but the second most common cancer in women living in lower middle and low income countries. 84% of new cases occur in less developed regions


In 2018, approximately 311, 000 women died from cervical cancer. More than 85% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.


Strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) cause most of the cases of cervical cancer. Most deaths, therefore, could be prevented by eliminating this risk factor. (Figure 3) 


Figure 3





Immunisation against HPV given during teenage years will prevent future generations from developing the disease. As it is the second most important cancer in low-income countries and immunisation is relatively cheap, then investing in this achieves great long term reward. 


For women over 30, a cervical screening programme is needed as they will have missed out on an immunisation programme and it is in early adulthood that the virus is most often caught. 


Further Reading


Cancer : Cervical Cancer (WHO)

WHO : 


Cervical Cancer and Human Papilloma Virus (WHO) 











Breast and Cervical Cancer image