Call to tackle deprivation link to cancer

Thousands of cancer cases could be prevented every year if people from poorer backgrounds were as healthy as the rich, figures showed today.

Up to 14,000 cases in England could be stopped if everyone was as healthy as the top 20% in the country, a study found.

Unhealthy lifestyles - which include smoking and obesity - are known to increase the risk of cancer.

But people from poorer backgrounds are also more likely to suffer from late diagnosis and inequalities in the treatments offered to them.

They are also less likely to attend cancer screening programmes in their area.

Parts of the country identified by the Government as deprived include Wakefield, Barnsley, Cumbria, Northumberland, Birmingham, Bolton, County Durham, Rochdale, Salford and large areas in London.

A report from the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) today found men were more likely to suffer the effects of deprivation than women.

There are 21% more cancer cases among men in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

The gap between women was narrower, at 11%.

Poorer patients of both sexes were more likely to suffer a range of cancers compared with their richer counterparts.

They were more likely to have cancer of the lung, head and neck, oesophageal, bladder, cervical, stomach and liver.

But richer people are more likely to have malignant melanoma, breast and prostate cancers.

Chris Carrigan, head of the NCIN, said: "Although men are generally more likely to get cancer, much of the difference we see here is down to lung cancer - the most common cause of cancer death.

"It accounts for a bigger proportion of men's cancers than women's cancers."

He said people are generally more likely to smoke or be obese in the most deprived areas.

"In addition to the higher rates, lower awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer - leading to later diagnosis - may further increase poorer people's risk of dying from the disease.

"These results explain why urgent action must be taken to improve the health of people living in deprived areas, and to ensure that all cancer patients have an equal chance of surviving the disease."

Between 2000 and 2004, in the most affluent areas of England, 345 in every 100,000 people were diagnosed with cancer.

This compared with 399 in every 100,000 in the most deprived areas - a 16% difference.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "It's incredibly important that we reduce inequalities in cancer care.

"Late diagnosis, uptake of screening and variations in treatment choice are all factors we are looking at very closely.

"But everyone can do their bit too by eating sensibly, giving up smoking and seeing a GP as soon as possible if they have concerns."

A Cancer Equalities Portal has been established by the National Cancer Equalities Initiative (NCEI) to tackle the differences between rich and poor.