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Deprivation 'leading to avoidable breast cancer deaths'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard

2nd November 2013 - Social deprivation may be responsible for around 450 deaths from breast cancer every year in England, say researchers.

A study being presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, says women in lower income groups are more likely to be diagnosed later than affluent women, when the disease is more advanced and treatment is less effective.

Researchers based at the Universities of Leicester and Cambridge looked at the stage of breast cancer in over 20,000 women in Eastern England diagnosed with the disease between 2006 and 2010 using data from the National Cancer Registration Service.

They then calculated the number of lives that would be saved within 5 years of diagnosis if the stage at diagnosis for all deprivation groups matched that of the most well-off women.

'Avoidable deaths'

The study estimates that 40 lives would be saved every year in the eastern region if these socioeconomic differences were removed. They then extrapolated the results to the whole of the country, estimating that around 450 lives could be saved in England every year.

Dr Gary Abel, a statistician at the University of Cambridge and one of the study authors, says in a statement: "These avoidable deaths are not due to differences in the response to treatment, or the type of breast cancer. Rather these are deaths that might be avoided if cancer was caught as early in women from deprived backgrounds as those from more affluent backgrounds.

"The reason for this inequality may be a combination of these women being less aware of breast cancer symptoms and a greater reluctance to see their GP."


The research was funded by Cancer Research UK. Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at the charity, says in a statement: "Other research shows that women from deprived backgrounds are more likely to feel embarrassed or worried about going to their GP - but it’s important for women to take that step as going to the GP promptly could make all the difference.

"All women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel because we know that early diagnosis is one of the most important factors in whether breast cancer treatment is effective."

Prompt detection

Emma Pennery, clinical director at Breast Cancer Care says in an emailed statement: "The majority of breast cancers are found by women themselves so being breast aware is very important.

"Most changes won’t turn out to be breast cancer, but prompt detection can result in treatment being more effective. So we encourage all women to look at and feel their breasts regularly, getting to know what is normal for them so they can spot and report any unusual changes to their GP quickly."

Reviewed on November 02, 2013

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