Inequalities In Cancer Outcomes 'Completely Unacceptable'

20 February 2017, 07:11

cancer scan

A "completely unacceptable'' cancer survival gap is growing between people living in the most and least deprived parts of Scotland, a charity has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support said there needs to be a major step up in cancer screening in deprived areas.

The charity and the Information Services Division (ISD) carried out what it described as the most comprehensive analysis ever of the "cancer survival gap'' for six of the most common cancers.

Of the cancers investigated, prostate cancer patients faced the biggest survival gap, with a 98% increased risk of death.

Breast cancer patients from deprived areas had an increased risk of death of 89%, while it was 61% for head and neck cancer patients.

Colorectal patients in deprived areas had a 45% increased risk of death and liver cancer patients a 28% increased risk.

Lung cancer patients faced poor outcomes regardless of their socioeconomic status, the charity found.

The study examined the survival rate of patients diagnosed between 2004 and 2008 and followed them for five years up to 2013.

It found lower rates of screening uptake and lower rates of treatment in deprived communities, while surgery was found to have had the most influence on survival, indicating those from deprived communities may be less likely to receive surgery, possibly because of having more advanced cancer or poorer overall health.

Janice Preston, head of Macmillan in Scotland, said: "It's completely unacceptable that someone's chances of surviving cancer could be predicted by their postcode.

"This new research gives us an up to date and in-depth understanding of the scale of the cancer survival gap in Scotland.

"It also provides the most comprehensive ever look at the reasons behind it.

"While the sheer number of factors that impact on survival means there is no magic bullet to solving this problem, this research points to clear areas for improvements, including encouraging earlier diagnosis and the take up of screening in deprived areas.

"The Scottish Government recognised the need to tackle cancer inequalities in its cancer plan published last year.

"Macmillan want to work with them, the NHS and local authorities to make sure people with cancer from deprived areas have the best possible chance of survival.''

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "This is a grim and deeply concerning report.

"We already know that a person is less likely to get diagnosed and less likely to survive cancer if they come from a poorer background.

"In Scotland we are seeing the health inequality gap widen not narrow under the SNP government.

"This follows on from official figures which showed that cancer screening rates are going backwards in the poorest communities too.

"This is especially worrying as we know there is a direct link between the speed of diagnosis and survival.

"We have also seen the SNP miss the cancer treatment standard for almost three years now. That is thousands of patients and their families let down.

"Cancer remains Scotland's biggest killer. We need an urgent response from the Government. Warm words are simply not enough.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While cancer mortality rates have reduced by 11% over the past 10 years, we recognise the need to tackle the variations between our least and most deprived communities.

"This is why our Cancer Strategy, backed by £100 million of additional investment, sets out clear actions aimed at reducing health inequalities.

"We're already seeing results, with increased screening participation and earlier diagnosis, however there's much more still to be done.

"Health inequality is closely linked to income inequality, which is why we have made tackling poverty as a priority.

"The UK Government's welfare cuts are having a severe impact on the most vulnerable, and while we cannot be expected to mitigate every cut, we will use new social security powers to provide better support where we can for those in need.''