Over 2,600 deaths from 14 of the most common forms of cancer2 could be avoided each year in England in the five years after diagnosis if all patients had the same chance of survival regardless of their economic background.
The difference in survival between the richest patients and the poorest was the widest in the month after diagnosis.
Researchers from King’s College London suggested that more cancer patients from deprived backgrounds were diagnosed when the disease was at a late stage and often harder to treat – leading to the differences in survival.
This variation in survival could be due to many reasons – poorer people may be delaying seeing their doctor about worrying symptoms or they may be less likely to go for screening.
Not surprisingly, the greatest numbers of avoidable deaths were from breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancers – the four most common cancers in the UK.
The results showed that the number of deaths each year for breast cancer could be reduced by around 490, by 330 for lung cancer, around 690 for bowel cancer and around 330 for prostate cancer.
Margreet Lüchtenborg, lead author of the study based at King’s College London, said: “This study shows that deprivation leads to inequality in survival for the most common cancers in England, especially in the month immediately after diagnosis.
“This could be because poor patients are more likely to be diagnosed with a late stage cancer.”
The study looked at more than 1.5 million cancer patients in England diagnosed with 14 of the most common cancer types between 1999 and 2007 and analysed survival from 2004 to 2007 for five different groups based on measures of wealth.
Chris Carrigan, head of the NCIN, said: “This study once again stresses the urgent need to improve the health of people living in deprived areas and to make sure all cancer patients have an equal chance of surviving their cancer.
“Deprivation is one of the biggest causes of cancer inequality in this country. We know that people from more deprived areas are more likely to smoke or be very overweight. They are also less likely to be aware of signs and symptoms of cancer, probably leading to later diagnosis, which may further increase their chances of dying from their disease.
“We need to take a close look at factors like late diagnosis, uptake of screening and variations in treatment for people from different social and economic backgrounds if we are to reduce inequality in cancer survival.
“But in the meantime everyone can do their bit by giving up smoking, eating sensibly and seeing a GP as soon as possible if they notice anything unusual.”
For media enquiries please contact the NCIN press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to editors
1. Deprivation is calculated using the Income Domain of the national Index of Multiple Deprivation, and each small area is given a score showing how deprived they are. These deprivation scores have then been grouped into 5 groups (quintiles), each containing one fifth of the population. Postcodes at diagnosis were used to allocate patients to their deprivation quintile.
2. 14 of the most common cancers in England looked at in this study were lung, breast, prostate, colon, rectal, oesophageal, stomach, pancreatic, womb, cervical, ovarian, bladder, melanoma skin cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.