Reproductive Cancers in the Spotlight on World Cancer Day

Every year in February, World Cancer Day is observed around the world. It is a global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and a leading international awareness day recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Our team at Cape Fertility proudly add our voice to raising awareness of cancer, and this year we specifically spotlight reproductive cancers that also negatively affect fertility.

By raising worldwide awareness, improving education and catalysing personal, collective and government action, World Cancer Day aims to contribute to a world where millions of preventable cancer deaths are saved and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is available to all.

Each year, hundreds of activities and events take place around the world, gathering communities, organisations and individuals in schools, businesses, hospitals, marketplaces, parks, community halls, places of worship – in the streets and online – a powerful reminder that we all have a role to play in reducing the global impact of cancer.

Created in 2000, World Cancer Day has grown into a positive movement for people everywhere to unite under one voice to face one of our greatest challenges in history.

One of the greatest challenges

According to the WHO, cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death, and its burden is growing.

In 2021, the world crossed a sobering new threshold – an estimated 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and 10 million people died of cancer. These numbers will continue to rise in the decades ahead.

And yet all cancers can be treated, and many can be prevented or cured.

Care for cancer, however, like so many other diseases, reflects the inequalities and inequities of our world. The clearest distinction is between high- and low-income countries, with comprehensive treatment reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries, but less than 15% of low-income countries.

Similarly, breast cancer survival five years after diagnosis now exceeds 80% in most high-income countries, compared with 66% in India and just 40% in South Africa. For all of these reasons, the theme for this year’s World Cancer Day is “closing the care gap”.

WHO’s efforts are focused on breast cancer, now the most common cancer; cervical cancer, that can be eliminated; and childhood cancer.

Reproductive cancers

This year, Cape Fertility adds its voice to cancer awareness efforts by highlighting reproductive cancers – including cervical cancer, and the other cancers that affect women, as well as reproductive cancers that affect men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, reproductive cancers start in the organs related to reproduction (sex). These organs are in the pelvis – the area in the lower belly between the hip bones.

Reproductive cancers affect both men and women, and these cancers – as well as their treatments – can have a significant negative impact on fertility.

Female reproductive cancers

There are several reproductive cancers that occur in women.

Among the most common reproductive cancers that occur in women include cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer. The most common cancer is breast cancer, which is sometimes also considered to be a reproductive cancer.

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, the lower end of the uterus that extends to the vagina. Nearly 600,000 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed every year and, devastatingly, more than 300,000 women each year die from cervical cancer, even though it is one of the most highly preventable and curable forms of cancer.

Ovarian cancer is cancer in the ovaries, the two organs that make female hormones and produce a woman’s eggs. It is a disease that’s often overlooked, misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Raising awareness among women is therefore crucial, because the earlier a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the better her chance of survival.

Uterine cancer is cancer in the uterus or womb, the organ where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

Vaginal cancer occurs in the vagina, the hollow channel that leads from the uterus and cervix to the outside of the body.

Vulvar cancer is cancer of the vulva, the area around the opening of the vagina.

Breast cancer is found in the tissues of the breast and is at times considered to be a reproductive cancer. Breast cancer is now the most common of all cancers.

Male reproductive cancers

There are also different types of reproductive cancers that occur in men. The most common ones are testicular cancer, penile cancer and prostate cancer.

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Testicular cancer often begins in the testes, the two egg-shaped glands that make sperm in the scrotum (ball sac) near the base of the penis.

Penile cancer starts in the penis, part of the external genitals.

Prostate cancer begins in the prostate, a gland inside the pelvis that surrounds the urethra, which is the tube that empties the bladder.

Cancer prevention

Not every type of cancer is preventable but we do know we can prevent many cancers through lifestyle choices.

According to the World Health Organization, at least one third of common cancers are preventable through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. Other lifestyle choices also play an important role, notably alcohol and tobacco use, and getting the right vaccinations.

Alcohol is strongly linked to an increased risk of several cancers. Tobacco causes 8 million deaths every year and accounts for at least 25% of all cancer deaths. Tobacco use has been found to cause around 15 different types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. Because it is the single largest preventable cause of cancer, quitting smoking is a very efficient way to reduce your risk of cancer.

Chronic infections commonly caused by viruses such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV), the human papillomavirus (HPV), and the bacterium Helicobacter pylori virus (H, pylori), are estimated to cause approximately 16% of all cancers globally. Safe and effective vaccines against HBV and HPV are available to protect against the infection-related cancers.
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD), and some types of HPV are low-risk and others are high-risk. High-risk strains of HPV increase the risk of certain reproductive cancers, such as cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer, as well as penile cancer.

Cancer treatment

Having a reproductive cancer will affect your fertility negatively, but any type of cancer and the resulting treatments are likely to contribute to – if not cause – infertility.
Both men and women with any cancer diagnosis are encouraged to discuss the risk of infertility due to cancer and cancer treatments, as well as fertility preservation options, with their doctors as soon as possible – and before cancer treatment begins.

Thanks to advances in medical science, men and women facing cancer treatment can now choose to preserve and protect their fertility through options such as egg freezing, sperm freezing and embryo freezing.

If you are interested in preserving your fertility, it is important to see a reproductive or fertility specialist as soon as possible.

Your first step in preserving your fertility at Cape Fertility is simply to contact us by clicking here… our highly qualified and experienced fertility specialists will gladly answer your questions and address any concerns you may have.