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The rising tide of cancer in Africa

Cancer, the world’s leading cause of death, is projected to increase at a staggering rate. Population growth, aging, changing dietary and physical activity patterns are thought to be major driving forces. Africa will be hardest hit, as it is estimated that by 2030 cancer will kill one million Africans each year. Within Africa, women will bear the heaviest burden, because breast and cervical cancer are the most common malignancies on the continent and the leading causes of disability and premature death.


Cervical and breast cancer in Africa

Of the 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer that are diagnosed each year, one in every five occurs in Africa, a region of the world where cervical cancer kills more women than any other cancer type. HIV infection makes women more susceptible to developing cervical cancer, thus the burden of disease is much higher in global regions where HIV is prevalent, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Breast cancer rates in Africa are on the rise and death rates are as high as those in rich nations. A major barrier to cervical and breast cancer care in Africa is the lack of accessible and affordable screening and treatment facilities. Other barriers include lack of awareness of the early signs and symptoms, the belief that cancer has a supernatural origin, and is always fatal.


Figure 1. Most common female cancer sites in Africa by country are shown for 2008. 

The impact of cancer in women

Women in Africa are central to the social and economic fabric of society. Because breast and cervical cancer deaths in Africa often occur when women are in the prime of their lives, its impact is broad, shortening the survival of their children and undermining the wealth and health of the country in which they reside. The need for major investments in effective and scalable cancer prevention and care service platforms in Africa is thus paramount .


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