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Major NHS analysis reveals significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity


By Jess Hacker
3 March 2022

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Researchers have called on the Government to address cancer inequalities, after analysis of the most complete data to date found significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity in England.

Led by Cancer Research UK, the researchers urged the health secretary to make tackling these inequalities ‘central’ to its 10-year cancer plan, including by ensuring early diagnosis and equitable access to services.

It comes after their analysis of NHS Digital identified major discrepancies in cancer rates, including that black people are almost twice as likely to develop prostate cancer than white people.

Black people are also three times more likely to get myeloma than white people, while both Black and Asian people are more likely to get stomach and liver cancers than those from other ethnic backgrounds, the analysis found.

Meanwhile, white people are understood to be more than twice as likely to have melanoma skin cancer, oesophageal, bladder and lung cancers compared to people from ethnic backgrounds.

Published in the British Journal of Cancer (3 March), the study saw researchers analyse NHS Digital’s cancer registration data: the most complete recording to date of cancer rates by ethnicity in England.

The researchers said the findings were ‘worrying’, in light of wider research indicating that people from ethnic minority backgrounds have worse experiences of cancer care and have lower survival for some cancer types.

Addressing health inequalities in cancer prevention, early diagnosis and treatment must be a ‘priority’ for the UK Government, they said.

This should include tackling known cancer risks linked to deprivation, such as smoking and obesity.

Bolder focus on prevention

Dr Katrina Brown, a study author, noted that cancer risk is based on many factors, like age, genetics and external risk factors, with around 40% of cancer cases estimated to be preventable.

‘But the cancer incidence we see today is partly the product of smoking and obesity in decades past, if we don’t tackle these risk factors today, we could see cancer rates rise in future for people from ethnic minority groups,’ she said.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said it is ‘clear addressing cancer inequalities must be central to Sajid Javid’s new ten-year cancer plan’, with a bolder focus on prevention.

‘We already know that the burden of cancer weighs heaviest on the most deprived in the UK, equitable access to services, including access to stop smoking and weight management services, as well as early diagnosis and cancer treatment is essential to improve cancer survival,’ he said.

A think tank recently claimed that the ‘centralised’ structure of the NHS is ‘misaligned’ with its aim to tackle health inequalities.

Last month, a London-based CCG last month informed GPs that waits for suspected breast cancer referrals were ranging from 22 days upwards across five hospitals in London.

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