Estrogen, the female sex hormone that shields young women against cardiovascular diseases, plays a role in her battle with cancer as well. It not only increases her chances of getting the disease, but also increases her chances of survival, say doctors. Statistics prove this. The World Health Organisation-developed statistical tool Globocan 2012 shows the Big C has afflicted more Indian women than men. But more Indian men died due to cancer than women, said the World Cancer Report 2014.
Doctors in Chandigarh’s Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI-MER) surmise women are subjected to more medical attention in their lifespan, allowing cancers to be picked at an early stage and hence improving life expectancy.
In all, 5.37 lakh Indian women got cancer in 2012 as against 4.77 lakh men, said the World Cancer Report. But 75% of the men affected with cancer have low life expectancy, while the mortality rate of cancer in women is 60%. In 2012, 3.56 lakh men died of the disease in comparison to 3.26 lakh women.
Among all cancers in both sexes, incidence of breast cancer is highest at 1,44,937, while the cervix uteri is the second most frequently occurring one with 1,22,844 cases. The third most common cancer is of the lip and oral cavity with 53,842 men affected.
This gender bias in cancer is noticeable. Dr Rakesh Kapoor, department of radiotherapy at PGIMER, Chandigarh, said, “Women are subjected to more medical attention in their lifespan as compared to men. From antenatal checkup, menopause problems and menstrual disorder, women get investigated and, by default, screened for cancer. Therefore, cancers are picked up at an earlier stage and mortality is less.” He said most national policies for screening are directed more towards cancers that hit women such as breast cancer and cervix cancer, as they are non-invasive. “Also, men have prolonged exposure to lifestyle risk factors that cause cancer such as tobacco use, substance abuse and alcohol consumption,” Dr Kapoor added.
Why is cancer mortality higher among men? Doctors say this could be because the lung and oral cavity cancers that are the leading cancers among men are usually detected at a late stage. “95% of these cancers are due to tobacco consumption, and 40% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco abuse. Mortality is high as it is hard to detect these cancers. We come across patients during an advanced stage of the disease, so they are tough to treat,” said Dr Ravi Mehrotra, director of ICMR-affiliated National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research.
The World Cancer Report estimates that of the 1,589,925 lung cancer deaths worldwide in 2012, 30.90% were of women and 69.10% of men. “Breast cancer is detected early, particularly in the western world. There is no screening of cancers in men,” said Dr Rajesh Dixit, professor of epidemiology at the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai. As per ICMR’s latest cancer registry, breast cancer, with an estimated 1.5 lakh (over 10% of all cancers) new cases during 2016, is the number one cancer.