Poorer lung cancer patients 'less likely to receive treatment'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Poorer people with lung cancer are less likely to receive treatment for their disease than wealthier people, a new international study has revealed.

This difference is not just down to poorer patients being diagnosed later, nor differences between national healthcare systems, according to research published in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers, led by Lynne Forrest from Newcastle University, reviewed 23 studies on how lung cancer treatment varies by socioeconomic status from the UK, US, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Italy, France and New Zealand.

They found that lung cancer patients from the lowest socioeconomic groups were a fifth (21 per cent) less likely to receive any treatment than those from the highest socioeconomic groups.

Lung cancer patients from less well-off backgrounds were around a third (32 per cent) less likely to have surgery and a fifth (18 per cent) less likely to be given chemotherapy. There was not a major difference in access to radiotherapy.

The link between social deprivation and a lower chance of receiving treatment was similar across countries with free healthcare systems, such as the UK, and those with private insurance systems like the US.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer. More than 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year, and almost 35,000 people die from the disease.

Research has shown that people from lower income backgrounds tend to have lower cancer survival rates. But differences in behaviours linked to ill health such as smoking, increased alcohol consumption and poor diet do not completely explain this difference.

Professor Greg Rubin, a Cancer Research UK researcher based at Durham University who was involved in the research, said: "In the UK, and across the world, poorer people are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer. Our research shows that they're also less likely to receive any kind of treatment.

"It's not a huge leap to conclude that these lower levels of treatment are contributing to lower survival in less well-off people. But we need to understand why these differences exist. For example, are doctors failing to offer their poorer patients suitable treatments? Do poorer patients have other illnesses that make them less suitable for treatment? Or are they more likely to decline treatment when it is offered?"

He added that researchers need to answer such questions so that all lung cancer patients are given the best treatments and so have the best chance of surviving their disease.

Copyright Press Association 2013

References

Forrest L.F. et al. (2013). Socioeconomic Inequalities in Lung Cancer Treatment: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, PLoS Medicine, 10 (2) e1001376. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001376