Cancer charities have called for urgent action on health inequalities after a study revealed that ‘social deprivation’ may be responsible for as many as 450 avoidable deaths from breast cancer every year.
Women from lower income groups are much more likely to be diagnosed later, when cancers are more advanced and more difficult to treat, according to research to be presented at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool today.
The treatment history of more than 20,000 women was analysed by researchers and it was found that if all groups of women had their cancers diagnosed at the same stage as the most affluent women, 40 lives could be saved.
The charity Breast Cancer Campaign called on public health leaders to give "urgent consideration" to new action to ensure breast cancer is always diagnosed early.
The research was funded by Cancer Research UK. Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at the charity, said that other research had shown that poorer women were more likely to feel "embarrassed or worried" about going to see their GP.
"People are much more fearful of serious illnesses in a deprived community, perhaps more so than in more affluent areas where better access to accurate information allows people to know that cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence," said Dr Simon Abrams, a GP in Everton, which has the most deprived population in England, according to Department of Health indicators. "There is a lack of information about symptoms and also a fear factor that is quite substantial," he told The Independent.
Eluned Hughes, head of public health at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "By focusing on improving early diagnosis particularly in deprived areas we can have most impact in stopping women dying from breast cancer.”
"Most cases of breast cancer are found by women noticing unusual changes in their breasts and visiting their GPs. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chance of beating it, so it is important women check regularly.
Dr Sharp added: "All women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel because we know that early diagnosis is one of the most important factors in whether breast cancer treatment is effective."
In Ireland, there were 2,463 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2007 making it the most common invasive cancer in Irish women.