Poorer people more likely to get and die from cancer

May 30, 2014

The poorer you are, the more likely you are to get and die from cancer, with more than 19,000 cancer deaths every year linked to lower levels of income according to new research published today (Thursday).

There are more than 15,000 people diagnosed with cancer every year partly as a result of their economic deprivation.

The new report compiled by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England's National Cancer Intelligence Network also reveals there has been virtually no improvement in narrowing the gap in the number of cases between the most and the least deprived people during the last 15 years.

In men the gap between cancer cases among the most and least affluent closed in just two types of cancer over 15 years – stomach cancer, and those cancers found somewhere in the body but where the original cancer cannot be found (cancer of unknown primary). 

There was little change in the gap between richer and poorer women over time.

But among both men and women it widened for five cancer types. For men this was the kidney, oesophageal and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and for women kidney, the throat and the back of the mouth (oropharynx) and vulva.  

More than half of the most common cancers have incidence rates linked to levels of income; in nearly all cancers the lower the income the higher the number of cases and deaths. However, of the 19,000 'excess deaths' associated with deprivation, over 11,000 are in patients with lung cancer.

The video will load shortly

Researchers divided England into five groups according to the level of income in different areas. They then calculated cancer rates in the groups to work out the number of cancer cases and deaths. This revealed the differences expected if rates for the more deprived groups had been the same as the least deprived.

Smoking is likely to be the main cause of the difference in cases and deaths between the groups. Other lifestyle factors likely to play a part are diet and obesity, with the higher income group having healthier diets that reduce the risk of cancer. 

Professor Julia Verne, Strategic Public Health Lead of PHE's National Cancer Intelligence Network, said: "These results build on our existing work on cancer and socio-economic deprivation with Cancer Research UK, which has expanded to include a wider range of cancer sites. While we've been able to improve the collection and understanding of cancer data from across England, and we now better understand why variations exist in new cancer cases and deaths between the lowest and highest income groups, and unfortunately these differences have not improved over time. However, by working closely with organisations, such as NHS England, we can improve earlier diagnosis and survival rates – regardless of where the person lives.

"In most recent periods, lung cancer had the largest number of excess cases - 11,700 persons per year; and deaths, 9,900 persons per year. Our Be Clear on Cancer (BCOC) campaign which launched nationally last year is designed to help raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms of cancer and get more people diagnosed earlier. Importantly the national campaign led to an extra 700 patients being diagnosed at an earlier stage and we want to increase this. We are doing more to target awareness programmes to help more deprived areas introducing pilot regional BCOC campaigns, as well as other national campaigns such as SmartSwaps, to encourage the population to make positive changes to their lifestyle and diets which may hopefully close the gap between these groups."

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of early diagnosis, said: "This report is a wakeup call about the magnitude of cancers linked to levels of wealth. It's unacceptable that such a large group of people are being penalised, effectively because of their income group and that little has worked to narrow the gap over the years. 

"This inequality remains despite years of effort to reduce it and demands action. Given that the vast proportion of the extra cases and deaths occur in smoking related cancers, the continued roll out of comprehensive tobacco control measures is all the more vital. Standardised packaging for tobacco products and sufficient investment in Stop Smoking Services are two vital measures that will help reduce the tobacco toll."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "These shocking data raise many questions as to why cancer is having a greater impact among those who earn less. Tobacco is clearly the main factor and must remain a focus for preventing cancer. But beyond smoking, we need to clarify if the least well off are losing out on access to services, whether the health service can be made more accessible or if we can do more to effectively target awareness programmes to benefit those at higher risk. 

"It isn't right that someone's income level should be a marker for their chances of getting and dying from . It's time to find some answers and act on them."

Explore further: Deprivation responsible for 450 breast cancer deaths each year

Related Stories

Deprivation responsible for 450 breast cancer deaths each year

November 5, 2013
Deprivation could be responsible for around 450 deaths from breast cancer every year in England as women in lower income groups are likely to be diagnosed when the disease is more advanced, and treatment is less effective.

Lung cancer rates climb by three quarters in women while halving in men

March 20, 2014
Lung cancer rates in women have risen by a staggering three quarters (73 per cent) over the last forty years according to new Cancer Research UK figures released today.

Global cancer death toll 50 per cent higher in men than women

February 14, 2014
Global cancer death rates are more than 50 per cent higher in men than women, according to figures published today (Friday) by Cancer Research UK.

Cancer deaths higher in Greater Manchester compared to rest of UK

February 6, 2014
Every day 18 people die from cancer in Greater Manchester – around 6,500 a year – making the death toll around 10 per cent higher than the UK average, according to the latest figures published by Cancer Research UK - ...

The only top 10 cancer where survival rates are falling

February 25, 2014
Of the top 10 cancers in the UK, bladder cancer is only one where survival rates have been shown to be getting worse. New figures published this month in the Journal of Clinical Urology confirm in a study of cases of bladder ...

Pancreatic cancer projected to become second leading cause of cancer-related death in the US by 2030

May 20, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—An analysis projects pancreatic and liver cancers to become second and third leading causes of cancer-related death in the United States by 2030, respectively, behind lung cancer, which will remain the ...

Recommended for you

Stem cell therapy attacks cancer by targeting unique tissue stiffness

July 26, 2017
A stem cell-based method created by University of California, Irvine scientists can selectively target and kill cancerous tissue while preventing some of the toxic side effects of chemotherapy by treating the disease in a ...

Understanding cell segregation mechanisms that help prevent cancer spread

July 26, 2017
Scientists have uncovered how cells are kept in the right place as the body develops, which may shed light on what causes invasive cancer cells to migrate.

Study uncovers potential 'silver bullet' for preventing and treating colon cancer

July 26, 2017
In preclinical experiments, researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center have uncovered a new way in which colon cancer develops, as well as a potential "silver bullet" for preventing and treating it. The findings may extend to ...

Compound shows promise in treating melanoma

July 26, 2017
While past attempts to treat melanoma failed to meet expectations, an international team of researchers are hopeful that a compound they tested on both mice and on human cells in a petri dish takes a positive step toward ...

Study may explain failure of retinoic acid trials against breast cancer

July 25, 2017
Estrogen-positive breast cancers are often treated with anti-estrogen therapies. But about half of these cancers contain a subpopulation of cells marked by the protein cytokeratin 5 (CK5), which resists treatment—and breast ...

Breaking the genetic resistance of lung cancer and melanoma

July 25, 2017
Researchers from Monash University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC, New York) have discovered why some cancers – particularly lung cancer and melanoma – are able to quickly develop deadly resistance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.