“Beating cancer should be beating cancer for all”, patients have said.
Cancer Research UK has today launched a landmark new report highlighting the “unacceptable” health inequalities facing cancer patients in Scotland.
The charity found that around 4,900 extra cancer cases a year are linked to deprivation in Scotland, which equates to around 13 avoidable cancer cases a day.
Shockingly, cancer death rates are 74% higher in the most deprived communities than the least deprived in Scotland.
The report – unveiled at the Scottish Cancer Conference by the charity’s CEO Michelle Mitchell – reveals those living in the poorest areas of the country are more at risk of developing cancer and are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage when cancer can be harder to treat successfully.
Smoking – the biggest cause of cancer in Scotland, with nearly one in five cases caused by smoking – continues to be far more common in deprived communities.
People living in more deprived areas are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is the second biggest risk factor for cancer after smoking. Nearly 7% of cancer cases each year in Scotland are caused by excess weight.
Early diagnosis also remains a significant problem. The report found people from deprived backgrounds are less likely to know the signs and symptoms of cancer and face greater barriers to contacting their GP if they have noticed any changes.
Calling for urgent action by the Scottish Government to improve cancer survival for all, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Michelle Mitchell, said: “It is unacceptable that people in Scotland are 74% more likely to die from cancer if they live in an area of higher deprivation.
“This landmark report offers the first comprehensive picture of deprivation and cancer in Scotland, setting out in detail the stark inequalities in health and cancer across the country.
“Right now, people from more deprived populations are more likely to develop cancer, are less likely to take up their invite for cancer screening and face greater barriers to seeking help for potential cancer symptoms.
“The Scottish Government’s forthcoming cancer strategy is a key opportunity to tackle cancer inequalities.
“People in Scotland need the strategy to be bold, ambitious and fully funded so no one with cancer is disadvantaged because of where they live or due to financial pressures. Now is the time to go further and faster to ensure that beating cancer means beating cancer for everyone.”
CRUK researchers found that screening uptake is far lower in more deprived communities.
Bowel cancer screening is 38% lower and breast cancer screening is 32% lower in the most deprived populations compared to the least deprived.
A similar trend is seen for cervical screening, with 17% fewer people from more deprived populations attending screening.
And access to cancer treatment can vary greatly depending on where people live in Scotland.
For example, receiving treatment can be more challenging for people living in rural areas. Some patients have reportedly chosen or been prescribed treatments that are less optimal to avoid having to travel.
In the report, Cancer Research UK lays out three key actions to tackle cancer inequalities: rolling out interventions that tackle known drivers of inequalities, diagnosing cancers earlier and ensuring everyone has access to the right treatments for them, and strengthening data collection, infrastructure and access to build a stronger understanding of where inequalities exist in Scotland.
Director of the Poverty Alliance, Peter Kelly said: “There is perhaps no greater illustration of the injustices of poverty than these stark figures released by Cancer Research UK.
“We all expect and deserve to have access to the best health care and treatment. But for too many people living on low incomes in Scotland this is just not the case. Cancer death rates that are 74% higher in the poorest communities should be a wake-up call for us all.
“It is simply not right that such staggering inequalities exist. We strongly support efforts to improve early diagnosis, and urge the Scottish Government to put addressing these inequalities at the heart of the new cancer strategy.
“Ultimately, this is a reminder that we need to redouble our efforts to address the root causes of poverty in our society.”