Charity warns on ‘cancer lottery’

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Six thousand more people could survive at least 12 months after being diagnosed with cancer in England each year if a postcode lottery of care was eliminated, a leading charity claims today.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the proportion of people dying within a year of being told they have the illness is 61 per cent higher in the worst-performing area than the best in England.

It said 6,000 more people could live for a year if the average survival rate matched the top 10 per cent of performers in the country.

It said figures indicated north Leeds had among the best performance in one-year survival, with 29 per cent of patients dying within a year. The best performer was north-east Hampshire and Farnham, with only 24 per cent succumbing to the illness within 12 months.

Six areas of the country, in parts of Essex, Kent, Sussex, London and Cheshire, had the worst performance, with 38 per cent of patients dying within a year.

The worst performance in Yorkshire was in Bradford city where 35 per cent die within 12 months of diagnosis.

The charity said the “alarming” postcode lottery of cancer survival could be explained by how quickly patients are being diagnosed and treated.

Fay Scullion, general manager for the East Midlands and northern England at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This analysis shows an unacceptable postcode lottery.

“Your chances of surviving cancer should not depend simply on where you live. When patients have to wait longer for diagnosis and treatment those chances are significantly reduced.”

She said: “We’re now at a stage that in north Leeds 71 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer will live for more than a year after diagnosis. Although this is better than the England average, as a nation our survival rates continue to lag behind other European countries. Failure to act now will see us fall further behind.

“All the Westminster political parties must make cancer a top health priority ahead of the General Election and commit to reducing the number of people who are diagnosed late.”

The figures come after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced controversial plans to “name and shame” GPs with low cancer referral rates for patients with suspicious symptoms.

As many as a quarter of cancer patients are only diagnosed when they visit A&E.

Early rates of diagnosis in the UK have consistently lagged behind countries in mainland Europe, partly due to patients being reluctant to consultant doctors over suspicious symptoms.

A range of programmes has been developed to pick up early signs of the illness, notably the new bowel cancer screening scheme. Some areas have also run public campaigns urging people to have checks for long-standing coughs which can be a sign of lung cancer.

To support earlier diagnosis of cancer, Macmillan has developed a computer application that helps GPs decide the risk of cancer for a patient. It runs in the background of a GP’s computer system, and is activated when a patient record is viewed.

The app picks up any relevant symptoms that have been entered into the patient record within the previous 12 months that may suggest the patient has cancer.