Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Other Opinion: Beating cancer in developing countries

  • Print

In poor and middle-income countries, a lethal malady once prominent mainly in affluent parts of the globe is raising its ugly head. Cancer incidence rates are increasing at double that of the rest of the world. Especially alarming are the fatality data. As Jason Gale reports in the December issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, while developing countries account for about half of new cancer cases, they have about 70 per cent of cancer deaths.

Lack of access to the latest diagnostic technology and chemotherapy is partly to blame. Also culpable, however, are cultural factors: In countries where people are not yet familiar with it, cancer still carries mystery and stigma. A woman in India who feels a lump in her breast, the Markets article illustrates, often tries to ignore it, fearing it will bring shame to her entire family and not realizing that the longer she delays seeking help, the more likely it is that the tumor will kill her.

This issue, at least, can be addressed with relative haste. The ultimate goal is to make state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and advanced cancer treatments available to everyone who needs them. But in the meantime, poor countries can build up their health systems and engage in the public education necessary to get people to seek whatever rudimentary care is available — be it manual exams, biopsies, surgery or chemotherapy.

Such progress can in itself improve cancer survival rates significantly — as the U.S. experience illustrates. For decades before the mid-1970s, when mammography came into wide use, U.S. breast cancer mortality rates steadily declined, thanks to increasing access to routine checkups. At the same time, the American Cancer Society promoted self-examination, and people generally became more comfortable talking about breast cancer.

The same progress should be possible now in countries that are new to cancer treatment.

The first step is to get people talking to one another — and, especially, relating stories of survival. A 2007 survey of more than 4,500 people in 10 countries by the Livestrong Foundation of Austin, Texas, found that cancer carries stigma because people think that it is untreatable and incurable, that victims bring it on themselves, and that it will ostracize them even from their families. The foundation has had success in combating such myths through public education efforts in Mexico and South Africa that are aimed at helping cancer survivors tell their stories publicly.

Of course, such publicity relies on people having access to health-care providers who know what cancer is and can refer patients to regional treatment centers. In many poor countries, this health-care infrastructure is still lacking. One of the benefits of increasing awareness of cancer, perhaps, could be greater demand for — and availability of — basic health care.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Life Death and the Blues preview - PTE Mainstage

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Challenges of Life- Goose Goslings jump over railway tracks to catch up to their parents at the Canadian Pacific Railway terminalon Keewatin St in Winnipeg Thursday morning. The young goslings seem to normally hatch in the truck yard a few weeks before others in town- Standup photo- ( Day 4 of Bryksa’s 30 day goose project) - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.

View More Gallery Photos


Will you be boiling your water until the city gives the all-clear?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google