The breast cancer maps for England, published here for the first time, show the extent of variations. They highlight the hotspots for breast cancer - Oxford and Wiltshire have more than 20 per cent more cases than the average - and point to the areas where the NHS may be failing. In Wakefield and Tees only 54 per cent of women survive five years, compared with 82 per cent in Solihull. Specialists say that the variation is unacceptable.
More than 30,000 women develop breast cancer each year and 13,000 die, more than from any other cancer. The maps are based on figures taken from the NHS performance indicators, published by the Department of Health, which are used by health authorities to check their progress in the battle against disease.
Breast cancer is a disease of affluence. As the maps show, it is more common in the affluent south than the poorer north. The reasons are ill- understood but believed to be linked to the standard of nutrition. Cancer is most common in the elderly, and those who ate a richer diet, with higher levels of fat, while growing up, are at greater risk. In addition, deaths are higher in women who delay seeking treatment.
However, death rates from breast cancer have been falling since1992, the year these maps represent, as detection and treatment improve. A leading pharmaceutical researcher said last week that more effective treatment now lay in drugs that kept tumours under control rather than cured the cancer outright. But major problems remain.
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