Cancer in women: prevent and screen

In the interviews published in International Hospital, we focus on a particular field of expertise to find out about current developments. We spoke to Peter Harper, oncologist and co-founder of Leaders in Oncology Care in London (United Kingdom). He talks about the main issues and challenges of cancer in women and the way forward.

Q. What are the most common cancers ?
In the Western world, three cancers make up just over 41% of the cancers diagnosed each year. Breast cancer accounts for 15% of all cancers; lung cancer for 13%, and bowel cancer for 13%. All other cancers cover the remaining 59%.

When women think about themselves and cancer, naturally breast cancer comes to mind, as the disease is largely confined to women (although male breast cancer does occur). Of course, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers only affect women.

They also must consider lifestyle and predominant amongst those is smoking tobacco. Tobacco smoking is related to lung cancer which, I think everyone knows, but also to kidney and  bladder cancer. Moreover, it has an influence on breast cancer and cervical cancers too.

Q. What are the benefits and disadvantage of breast cancer screening?
An independent review [1] in the UK published in October 2012 determined that breast cancer screening of women (50 to 69 years of age) saves around 1 300 lives a year, but it also results in over diagnosis and unnecessary treatments.

The majority of oncologists would defend breast screening. Naturally, when long series of screened patients are reviewed (in this case over 20 years), both screening and treatment modalities change.  In the present day, we are really making in-roads in identifying those in whom an early diagnosis requires intensive treatment to prevent recurrence and death, and those who can be treated more gently. Breast cancer statistics published by Cancer Research UK [1] showed that in 2010 there were over 11 000 deaths from breast cancer in the UK with over 48 000 women diagnosed. With modern treatments, 85% of women in England survived their breast cancer for five years or more. Early diagnosis is essential as is screening.

Q. What should we know about ovarian cancer?
Although ovarian cancer represents 2% of all cancer, it is the fifth most common cancer in women. The lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is about one in 50. It is often described as