A report published this week has laid bare the astounding inequality in cancer death risk across England, with a clear north south divide. Using data from the Office for National Statistics on deaths, the report states that people who live in more deprived areas in England have a significant higher risk of dying from cancer when compared to those who live in wealthier regions.
As reported in The Independent, the study focused on the ten cancers that cause most deaths, which included breast cancer in women. The team leading the study found that the risk of cancer deaths was highest in northern cities, including Manchester, the home of Prevent Breast Cancer. Other northern cities mentioned in the report included Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle and in coastal areas to the east of London. To put this into context, for women, the risk of dying of cancer before the age of 80, ranged from one in six in Manchester, to one in 10 in Westminster, which is a stark difference.
The report suggests that cuts to public health services are to blame for this postcode lottery, and the largest inequalities were for cancers where risk could be reduced with lifestyle changes, including weight loss and stopping smoking. Worryingly, researchers also stated that these inequalities were also present for cancers where there is screening available to help with early diagnosis.
On a positive note, the study did conclude that the overall risk of dying from cancer across all of England has decreased over the last twenty years, but there still remains a vast inequality in cancer deaths between the north and south.
The article in The Independent also includes a quote from one of the authors of the report, Amanda Cross, and she states that access to cancer screening and diagnostic services which can prevent breast cancer or catch it early are key in reducing some of the inequalities, and that those living in poorer areas are less likely to access and engage with cancer screening, and only seeking help when their cancer is at a more advanced stage. Amanda and her whole team argue cancer screening should be available and accessible to all, no matter their economic background.
As a charity based in the northwest, we know too well about inequality in cancer, especially the inequalities that exist in breast cancer screening, and how screening rates in Manchester are below the average, especially amongst ethnic communities and those who live in deprived areas.
Commenting on breast cancer inequalities, Nikki Barraclough, Chief Executive of Prevent Breast Cancer said:
While data shows cancer testing amongst women has improved, our additional research has found that women from ethnic communities (non-white women) reported lower attendance for breast cancer screening. To tackle these inequalities, we must utilise the strength of charities and community groups who hold vital insights into women’s experiences, to better understand how we make breast cancer screening accessible for all. It’s concerning to see such disparities in breast cancer screening attendance – especially when we know the disease does not discriminate and can affect anyone.
We run multiple initiatives and are currently in the planning stages to hit the roads again in 2024 to spread the importance of being breast cancer aware, visiting areas in Manchester with the lowest uptake of screening, which are also some of the most deprived.
As part of this we will be partnering with other organisations to ensure our message reaches all communities and proactively sharing information with different cultural and ethnic groups. We want to empower women to know what’s normal for them, and ensure all women are diagnosed as early as possible.
You can read the full report online.