Every year, more than 2 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, yet where a woman lives, her socioeconomic status, and agency largely determines whether she will develop one of these cancers and will ultimately survive. In regions with scarce resources, fragile or fragmented health systems, cancer contributes to the cycle of poverty. Proven and cost-effective interventions are available for both these common cancers, yet for so many women access to these is beyond reach. These inequities highlight the urgent need in low-income and middle-income countries for sustainable investments in the entire continuum of cancer control, from prevention to palliative care, and in the development of high-quality population-based cancer registries. In this first paper of the Series on health, equity, and women’s cancers, we describe the burden of breast and cervical cancer, with an emphasis on global and regional trends in incidence, mortality, and survival, and the consequences, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged women in different settings.