Thousands of people with cancer are dying prematurely because they live in the “wrong” part of the country, a government report revealed a few days ago.
Charities and MPs condemned the variations, which mean that sufferers in some parts of the country have significantly less chance of surviving at least a year after diagnosis of cancer.
Although overall cancer survival rates have improved, almost all NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) in England are failing to match the best cancer survival rates in Europe despite the introduction of a national Cancer Reform Strategy two years ago.
A real problem
Patients in Herefordshire are more than three times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis of lung cancer compared with patients in Kensington and Chelsea, according to the progress report published by the Department of Health.
Cancer Research UK called for urgent action from the Government, adding that there was “no excuse” for the differences in life expectancy between different areas.
The second annual progress report on the Cancer Reform Strategy comes after Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director, estimated that late diagnosis of cancer causes at least 10,000 premature deaths a year.
In an article for the British Journal of Cancer, Professor Richards writes: “These delays in the patient presenting with symptoms and cancer being diagnosed at a late stage inevitably costs lives.
“The situation is unacceptable so the first big step has been to understand why the delays occur.”
Patients not being treated / diagnosed early enough
Every year more than 290,000 people in Britain have some form of cancer diagnosed, and about 150,000 people die.
But while eight out of ten patients with bowel cancer live for more than a year after diagnosis in Telford and Wrekin in the West Midlands, less than six out of ten (57.9 per cent) do so in Waltham Forest, North London.
Ninety-nine per cent of all patients in Torbay, Devon, survive at least a year after a diagnosis of breast cancer, but this figure is 89 per cent in Tower Hamlets.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research, said: “These shocking statistics confirm that the cancer postcode lottery remains a real problem.
“Patients are undoubtedly not being diagnosed early enough in large parts of the country, nor are they getting equal access to the best treatments, such as surgery for lung cancer.
“It’s a disgrace that such a small proportion of primary care trusts have survival rates that match the best figures in Europe, or even the best rates in Europe ten years ago.
“This needs urgent action.”
A lack of proper diagnostic tests and understanding of symptoms
A separate report by MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cancer, also published today, suggests that older patients may also be at risk of dying earlier due to a lack of proper diagnostic tests or symptoms.
Mark Simmonds, MP, a Conservative health spokesman, said: “We are concerned by this data, which demonstrates the unacceptable inequalities in treatment and care for cancer patients. In 2000 the Government pledged that reducing health inequalities was a key aim, yet nearly a decade on the gap has widened and five-year cancer survival rates still lag behind those of comparable European countries.”
Andy Burnham’s pledge
Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, responded: “Cancer treatment in Britain has improved vastly in recent years and this is shown in the falling mortality rates and increasing survival rates.
“However, we know that survival rates vary across the country, particularly in deprived areas, so this year’s report has deliberately focused on local variations so we can highlight to the NHS where they need to take action.
“I hope that the publication of this data combined with the Prime Minister’s pledge to give patients key diagnostic tests within just one week of seeing their GP will save thousands more lives.”
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