We want the next government to tackle cancer inequalities
Cancer Research UK’s ‘Commit to Beat Cancer’ campaign calls on parliamentary candidates to pledge to keep cancer high on the political agenda. Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring some of the issues behind these calls, looking at how Government could protect the UK’s research base and provide access to new treatments..
This week, Heather Walker, policy researcher at Cancer Research UK, explains why all parties should commit to tackle cancer inequalities.
“We need not accept the present size of the social gradient in health as fixed. If it can change, and we can understand why, action is possible to reduce it.”
- Professor Sir Michael Marmot
Early this year, the Marmot Report – a Government-sponsored review of how the health system treats different sectors of society – concluded that health inequalities are strongly linked to things like a person’s income and social background. As the report found, a man living in the wealthiest part of London can expect to live to 88 years, while in one of the poorest parts of the capital, male life expectancy is just 71.
The issue is not a new one – the Black Report in 1980 said the same, and yet, thirty years on, inequalities persist. And tackling inequalities isn’t easy, as successive Governments have found. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
There’s plenty of evidence that inequalities are a real problem throughout the cancer journey, from prevention right through to treatment, and ultimately, mortality and survival.
With regard to prevention, we know that smoking is more prevalent among more deprived groups and this means that these people are more likely to develop smoking-related diseases, such as cancer.
We know that there are inequalities in access to cancer treatments too. To take just one example, a 2007 study in the British Journal of Cancer found that older women are less likely to receive standard treatment for breast cancer than their younger counterparts. Furthermore, this trend increased with age so that the oldest women fared least well.
And looking at survival, a 2004 review by the National Audit Office found that unskilled workers were twice as likely to die from cancer as professionals.
There are many other groups that experience a whole range of inequalities in cancer. And these can be complex. For example, you might be surprised to learn that people from the most affluent areas are more likely to develop skin cancer. Despite this, however, they have better survival rates than those from the more deprived areas.
Cancer Research UK believes that we should work together to end cancer inequalities. We want the next Government to ensure that everyone has the best chance to beat cancer, regardless of where they live, how well-off they are, their ethnicity, gender, language or indeed, any other factor.