MD Anderson and WHO establish new international collaboration to reduce women’s cancers

Joint effort focused on breast and cervical cancers

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and World Health Organization (WHO) today announced a formal agreement to establish a new international collaboration concentrated on reducing the global burden of women’s cancers. The agreement builds on years of collaboration between the two institutions to further promote their shared efforts in advancing global cancer initiatives in women’s cancers, including breast and cervical cancers.

“Collaborating with WHO aligns with MD Anderson’s mission to provide exceptional cancer care to people in Texas, the country and around the globe through programs that integrate patient care, research, prevention and education,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “It also aligns with our institution’s strategy and our commitment to building strong international relationships to serve the global community and improve quality of life at the population level. We are honored to join WHO in improving access to quality cancer control and cancer care programs for women everywhere. Together, our collective action will drive us forward in Making Cancer History® around the world.”

WHO, the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations (UN) system, aims to support UN members in strengthening their cancer control programs through global cancer initiatives like women’s (breast and cervical) and childhood cancers. As one of WHO’s adult cancer collaborators, MD Anderson has worked previously with WHO to treat cancer patients at various WHO disease sites and has assisted in strengthening its cancer control programs.

Through this collaboration with WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, MD Anderson experts will support WHO in cancer-related efforts — including providing technical consultations, participating in working groups and publishing peer-reviewed scientific articles that contribute to the understanding of breast and cervical cancers — and will lend their knowledge and expertise to provide training materials for the implementation of WHO cancer initiatives. This agreement represents a concerted effort between the two organizations and serves as an important step toward MD Anderson becoming a WHO Collaborating Center. MD Anderson will then be the first U.S. adult cancer center partner. 

“Early detection and treatment have proven successful in high-income countries, but unfortunately, low-income countries have limited resources and lack access to early diagnosis and lifesaving therapies,” said Bente Mikkelsen, director of Noncommunicable Disease at WHO. “We are happy to join forces with MD Anderson to end cancer by supporting countries with limited resources in order to reduce their breast and cervical cancer mortality and to improve the quality of individual lives.”

In 2020, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, with 685,000 deaths, globally. As of the end of 2020, 7.8 million women alive had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous five years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women with an estimated 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths in 2020. About 90% of these cases occur in low- and middle-income countries due to limited access to preventative measures and treatments, and delayed diagnoses, leading to advanced stage cancers in a higher rate of death from cervical cancer in these countries.

“Our guiding principle is to eliminate cancer not just in the state of Texas or the U.S., but globally,” said Welela Tereffe, M.D., chief medical executive at MD Anderson. “As the No. 1 cancer center in the country, we know all too well the importance of providing equitable access to early detection, effective treatments, prevention and education for patients to reduce the burden of cancer and promote better outcomes. I am excited to unite with WHO to eliminate breast and cervical cancer as a public health crisis and, ultimately, to improve the lives of women around the world.”

Dr. Ren Minghui, Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Dr. Kathleen Schmeler and Sarah Berger