Hundreds of women with breast cancer who live in the most deprived areas of England would have better survival rates if they were diagnosed at the same stage as those who live in affluent areas, new research has revealed.While previous studies have found poorer breast cancer survival for women who live in more deprived areas, this new study examines how much these differences are due to later-stage disease at diagnosis for women who live in such areas, said Dr Mark Rutherford of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester, which led the research, working with colleagues from Public Health England and the University of Cambridge.
"We found that, for a typical yearly cohort of breast cancer patients in England, 450 deaths could have been postponed beyond five years of diagnosis if the stage distribution for all women matched that of the most affluent," said Dr Rutherford.
Being diagnosed with earlier-stage disease has a significant impact on survival chances, he pointed out."Our research highlights that important and significant improvements could be made in terms of the number of early deaths that are observed for women living in more deprived areas by concentrating on making sure these women are diagnosed earlier. The findings suggest that policies aimed at reducing inequalities in stage at diagnosis between women with breast cancer are important to reduce inequalities in breast cancer survival," said Dr Rutherford.
Commenting on the research, Dr Martine Bomb, head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), said there is already good evidence that breast cancer survival is poorer among more deprived women, and that the new study helps with understanding more about why this should be.
"More needs to be done to tackle this inequality to ensure everyone has the same chance of surviving breast cancer, no matter where they live," said Dr Bomb, and she pointed out that CRUK is working in partnership with others to help people "get to know their bodies, know what signs to look out for that could be cancer and see their doctor sooner rather than later if they have noticed something out of the ordinary."
"Spotting breast cancer at an early stage makes a real difference to women's chance of surviving the disease, and we must ensure this is a reality for all," she emphasised.
The researchers were funded by CRUK and The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Their work will be published in the International Journal of Cancer, and is available on-line ahead of publication at www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.28221/abstract