Poor women in Britain have some of the highest death rates from cancer in Europe, an in-depth new study by the World Health Organization has found.
They are much more likely to die from the disease compared to better-off women in Britain and women in poverty in many other European countries.
Women in the UK from deprived backgrounds are particularly at risk of dying from cancers of the lungs, liver, bladder and esophagus (food pipe), according to research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO’s specialist cancer organisation.
IARC experts led by Dr Salvatore Vaccarella analyzed data from 17 European countries, looking for socio-economic disparities in mortality rates for 17 different types of cancer between 1990 and 2015.
Of the 17 countries studied, Britain had the sixth worst record for the number of poor women dying from cancer. It had the worst record for oesophageal cancer, fourth worst for lung and liver cancer and seventh worst for breast and kidney cancer.
However, the UK has a better record of poor men dying from cancer compared to its counterparts in many of the other 16 countries. It was ranked fifth overall, second for cancer of the larynx and pharynx, and third for lung, stomach and colon cancer.
The strong gender gap is most likely because women in Great Britain started smoking in large numbers a few years after men did, the researchers believe. They pointed to the fact that although cases of lung cancer have fallen among men overall in the UK, they have remained stable or increased among women, and have risen among women from poorer backgrounds.
The research team, which included experts from Imperial College and University College London, used education as an indicator of deprivation.
“Among men, the UK shows a medium level of educational disparities in all cancers combined, among European countries included.
“But among women, the UK shows among the highest education gaps in cancer, behind Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland and Norway,” Vaccarella said.
The study, published Monday in Lancet Regional Health, Europe, based its conclusions on data collected for adults aged 40 to 79 in 17 countries, including England and Wales. For publication purposes, England and Wales were grouped together.
Far more poor than wealthy people die from cancer across Europe as a whole, it found.
“Across the board, lower-educated individuals suffer systematically higher mortality for almost all cancer types, relative to their more highly educated counterparts, with a social gradient of increasing risk of death with decreasing educational attainment,” the study concluded.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said women’s health was a key priority and it was taking action to improve cancer diagnosis and outcomes.
“We are committed to improving the health of the nation and we have put women’s health at the top of the agenda by publishing a Women’s Health Strategy and appointing the first ever Women’s Health Ambassador for England,” a DHSC spokesperson said.
“We are working in tandem to improve outcomes for cancer patients across England, including by improving referral rates. During August, 92% of people started cancer treatment within a month of referral.
“We have also opened more than 90 joint diagnostic centers so far, which have provided over 2 million additional scans, tests and checks.”
Midnight Meanwhile, the new Tory leader of the Commons health and social care committee has called on the government to clarify whether it intends to bring forward new plans to deal with the cancer treatment backlog in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Steve Brine, a former health minister, told the Press Association that he doubted the government still intended to bring forward a promised new 10-year cancer strategy to improve early diagnosis, treatment and survival.