Poorer communities have higher breast cancer death risk

There have been calls for more doctors in disadvantaged areas, because women in poorer communities are 33% more likely to die from breast cancer than wealthier women.

The Irish Cancer Society made the plea after the finding in a recent study by researchers from the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI).

The report outlined how women in disadvantaged areas are less likely to contract breast cancer than women in more affluent areas, but have a heightened risk of death if they do suffer from the disease.

Women from poorer areas are less likely to attend a doctor, or attend a Breastcheck screening, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

This results in a later diagnosis and, with it, an increased chance of death.

The NCRI study, which was published recently, also showed that women who were diagnosed because they had symptoms of breast cancer had a poorer chance of survival than those whose cancers were found by BreastCheck.

Some 76.5% of women diagnosed through symptoms were from disadvantaged areas, compared to 67% of more affluent women.

Kathleen O’Meara, the head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society, said there needed to be a debate as to the effectiveness of awareness campaigns, particularly regarding women from less well-off areas.

She said other questions needed to be asked, such as why women in poorer areas are more likely to continue smoking or find it harder to quit.

“It is more related to the circumstances of the women: the pressure they’re under, low self-esteem, looking at why they are smoking,” she said.

“Where we have problems like this, we need to go to the communities themselves to see why fewer women go to screenings.”

She said while many women in more disadvantaged areas might have a medical card, other costs, such as childcare, travel and prescription charges, may be an obstacle, as well as “fear of a result” from a test.

GPs also agree with the need to target services at people in poorer areas, with a report by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), entitled ‘Irish General Practice: Working with Deprivation’, highlighting a healthcare gap between rich and poor areas.

It found that men in the poorest areas, on average, die 4.3 years earlier, and women 2.7 years earlier, than people in better-off areas, and that the GP/population ratio is below the national average in some areas.

For example, there is one GP per 1,600 population nationally, but the report outlines how, in north Dublin, the ratio is one GP per 2,500 population.

Its recommendations include incentives to hire more GPs, and more trainee GPs working in deprived areas.

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