Closing inequality gap could mean earlier diagnosis for thousands of people

In collaboration with the Press Association

Each year 5,600 patients are diagnosed with cancer at a late stage because of social and health inequalities, according to a new UK study.

The new estimate comes from data published in the Annals of Oncology, which confirms that a person's age, sex and income all have a bearing on the stage at which their cancer is likely to be diagnosed.

The authors of the study, from the University of Cambridge, say that narrowing these inequalities could mean thousands of future patients would be diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

The study looked at data from 2006 to 2010 and focussed on the ten most common types of cancer, which account for two-thirds of all new cancer diagnoses in England.

The researchers worked together with the NHS to examine data from the Eastern Cancer Registration and Information Centre (ECRIC), the English regional cancer registry with the most complete information on stage at diagnosis.

Their results suggested that narrowing social differences could mean earlier diagnosis for 2,000 men with prostate cancer, 1,300 patients with lung cancer, 1,000 women with breast cancer and 700 patients with melanoma.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UKs director of information, welcomed the report, saying that the inequalities were "unacceptable" and needed addressing.

"This study adds to our understanding of things we can do to help tackle late stage diagnosis of cancer among the less well-off.

"It's encouraging to see that we now have better information on what stage cancers have reached when they are diagnosed, allowing these researchers to find links between stage and age, income and type of cancer in a way that was not possible before."

The authors said that most of the improvements could be achieved by improving awareness of symptoms and signs of potential cancer that should prompt a consultation with a doctor.

"We know that earlier-stage diagnosis of cancer is important - it dramatically improves the effectiveness of treatment and survival for many cancers," said lead author Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, a researcher of the University of Cambridge.

"This study highlights the importance of awareness of cancer symptoms and how people of different social groups react to such symptoms," he added.

National Clinical Director for Cancer Professor Sir Mike Richards said it was an "important study" which clearly demonstrated the value of collecting staging data on cancer patients at a population level.

He also said: "It shows that significantly more patients could be diagnosed at an early stage, and thus have better survival, if inequalities by age, gender or deprivation were to be eliminated."

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Lyratzopoulos, G. et al. Socio-demographic inequalities in stage of cancer diagnosis: evidence from patients with female breast, lung, colon, rectal, prostate, renal, bladder, melanoma, ovarian and endometrial cancer. Annals of Oncology doi:10.1093/annonc/mds526