Cancer deaths 'significantly higher' in north of England

In collaboration with the Press Association

People who live in the north of England are more likely to die from cancer than those living elsewhere in the country, according to a report presented at the launch of the new National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) today (June 18th).

The report looked at data from 2005 and found that cancer deaths were approximately 20 per cent higher in the north than the rest of England, while the south and the Midlands had the lowest rates of cancer deaths.

The north-south divide is thought to be due to a number of factors, one of which is the higher smoking rate in the north of the country.

This theory is borne out by the higher rates of lung cancer deaths in the north - 68 per 100,000 men compared with just 36 per 100,000 men in Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire.

In women, the most commonly diagnosed cancer was breast cancer, for which the highest rates were found in the south.

Professor David Forman, information and analysis lead for the NCIN, commented: "These figures show us that some of the past trends aren't changing - cancer death rates remain higher in the north than the rest of England.

"Smoking is responsible for nearly nine in ten cases of lung cancer. More people in the north smoke, and this explains why lung cancer rates are so much higher. There are also higher levels of deprivation in the north, which could contribute to cancer risk through other means - we know that deprivation is linked to later diagnosis, which can affect mortality."

The research also revealed that prostate cancer is now the most common cancer in men. An average of 97 out of every 100,000 men were diagnosed with the disease in 2005 compared against 60 cases of lung cancer per 100,000 men.

Professor Forman said that this is "a relatively new development and could be due to a combination of a general decline in smoking rates among men and a greater awareness of prostate cancer, leading to more men asking their doctor for a PSA test".

The report is the first to come from the NCIN, which will bring together up to 22 million NHS cancer records to create the world's largest patient-based cancer research resource.

The initial focus is on diagnoses and deaths from cancer in England, but the NCIN plans to extend its remit to include Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

NCIN chairman Professor Sir Alex Markham said that these data "are vitally important if we are to work out why there are variations across the country in the chances of getting and dying from cancer, and how to tackle this".

"Through the NCIN, we are beginning to harness the power of the NHS as a research tool. Looking at cancer rates in this way can help target public health policy where it matters, and this is vitally important," he added.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "The NCIN is an exciting project that takes advantage of the uniqueness of the NHS to drive improved outcomes in cancer. This is a project that would be virtually impossible anywhere else in the world. Cancer Research UK is delighted to be involved."

Visit the NCIN website

Visit Cancer Research UK's cancer stats website

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