This content was co-authored by Mackenzie Sharp, an intern working with Dr. Sandra Dunn at Phoenix Molecular Designs. 

Breast cancer is not limited to any class, age, race, religion, or geographical location. It is found internationally, indicating the disease poses a shared risk for all women across the globe. Breast cancer has become a global health crisis, and this article explores the barriers to treating women with breast cancer.

An Overview

While many western nations push for further developments in breast cancer studies and improvement of drug therapies, many nations within our global community have yet to begin the necessary work in order to curb fatalities. This is often due to a lack of preventative effort, public education and awareness, and access to modern medicine. As a result, breast cancer has become one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide, with almost half of all fatalities occurring overseas in third-world nations. But what factors make these nations more prone to breast cancer?

Isolation

Many parts of the world isolated from western care centers practice traditional medicine. Using this treatment in sequence with western care has proven effective in treating cancer. However, reliance on traditional medicine in lieu of outside council or treatment can become a barrier to global health initiatives. A study of healthcare in Sub-Saharan Africa found that the “fear, stigma, and cost” of western medicine is what drives rural African women to remain under the care of traditional healers or witch doctors. Unfortunately, these women are often the last to seek council for breast abnormalities and breast masses, which severely reduces survivability outcomes. 

Extremism

Women in many extremist nations require an escort to be seen in public, as the bodies of women are considered to be the property of men. Therefore, requests to see a physician are often denied, especially in regards to breast abnormalities. This stigma can lead women to fear they will be blamed or punished for their condition by their male counterparts. Additionally, symptoms may be blamed on psychological disturbances and dismissed due to lack of regard for the female voice. Select extremist groups in war zones are also notorious for blocking medical aid from entering the nation. With so many detriments to women’s health in extremist nations, researchers dedicated to curbing breast cancer fatalities have identified stigmatization and religious modesty as two major global barriers to delivering care to women.

Poverty and Instability

In low-income countries, financing is a major barrier to the detection and treatment of cancer. A lack of budget for infrastructure, staff, machinery, and drugs can result in a nation’s inability to provide even basic medical care, let alone cancer therapeutics. Nations that suffer from natural disasters or war experience frequent destruction of infrastructure, which can prevent delivery of care. Government instability also makes it difficult to address the needs of cancer patients. Since the primary focus of these nations is to address immediate conflict, cancer treatment often becomes a low-priority issue.

Looking Forward

While all of these factors impact the availability of breast cancer treatment, they also impact the availability of all types of medical care. More research needs to be done in order to understand how these barriers can be broken down so that aid can be delivered to these women.