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Cervical cancer deaths on rise in poor countries

09/14/2011 07:34 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

Breast and cervical cancers are being diagnosed more often and at younger ages in women in developing countries, according to a new report.

The analysis of breast and cervical cancer trends for 187 countries was published in Thursday's issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

"If you look at the volume of breast cancer cases worldwide it has more than doubled," said Alan Lopez, head of the University of Queensland School of Population Health and one of the co-authors of the report.

"It's gone up from about 640,000 in 1980 to 1.6 million today, and that's much faster than the pace of population growth."

The researchers analyzed cancer registry data from 187 countries to model cancer cases and deaths along with uncertainty estimates.

Breast cancer deaths rose at a much slower pace than the number of cases, which points to the effectiveness of medical care such as screening and treatment in developed countries, Lopez said.

But that's not the case for cervical cancer in developing countries, where both cases and deaths are rising at the same pace.

Cervical cancer cases rose from 378,000 in 1980 to about 454,000 last year, mostly in the developing world, the researchers estimated.

"To screen well requires a medical system that is quite complex," said Dr. James Bentley, a gynecological oncologist in Halifax. "They can't do simple Pap tests because they don't have the structures to do them and they don't have the facilities to followup."

In developing countries, women traditionally tended to get sick during pregnancy or childbirth and then die, a trend that is now shifting as breast and cervical cancer become bigger threats.

About 343,000 women every year die in childbirth, most in the developing world. In comparison, breast cancer kills 425,000 women a year and cervical cancer kills about 200,000.

The report aimed to show that breast and cervical cancers are an important reproductive health issue, Lopez said.

"It's not just about saving women from maternal mortality. It's also about preventing these cancers and treating these cancer in women not only in reproductive ages but of course in older ages as well."

The study was funded by the breast cancer group Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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