The “cancer gap” that exists between disadvantaged and well-off communities is, again, highlighted in a report that shows the five-year survival rate is much poorer among the most deprived.
The findings, based on yet-to-be-published data from the National Cancer Registry (NCR), showed a 64% five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer among the least deprived, compared to 56% for the most deprived.
The disparity extends to lung cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 22% for the well-off compared to 16% for the most in need.
The ongoing problem of a cancer gap is accentuated by an ongoing problem in accessing diagnostics, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) said, with the most deprived twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer.
ICS head of advocacy and communications, Kathleen O’Meara, said postcodes had a significant impact on outcomes.
“Where you live has a significant impact on how long you live,” she said.
“The data presented today [at the Charles Cully Memorial Lecture] shows that those in the poorest communities in Ireland have a reduced chance of surviving their cancer diagnosis,” said Ms O’Meara.
Other issues playing into the disparity in survival rates included difficulty accessing healthcare and late diagnosis.
Ms O’Meara referenced a report published by the Irish College of General Practitioners in 2013 which highlighted a serious problem accessing diagnostics for public patients.
According to GPs, public patients have an average wait of 14 weeks for abdominal and pelvic ultrasound. In contrast, private patients have an average wait of just over four days.
“Late diagnosis can lead to late treatment and to worse outcomes. In some deprived Dublin areas, there are not enough primary care resources — for instance, in North Dublin, there is one GP for every 2,500 people. Nationally this figure is 1:1,600,” Ms O’Meara said.
It would take “a big effort” on the part of Government, the HSE, and organisations like the ICS to take action in closing the divide, but it could be done.
“There has been Government recognition that health inequalities are damaging to the wellbeing of the country. Healthy Ireland, the Government’s plan to improve the health and wellbeing of Ireland, was published in March 2013 and one of its four main goals is reducing health inequalities.
“We want the next National Cancer Strategy to have tackling health inequalities as a priority,” said Ms O’Meara.
Figures from the NCR have also shown women from deprived areas diagnosed with breast cancer have a 33% higher mortality rate than those from more affluent backgrounds, mostly because it is picked up at a later stage.
And last year a report compiled by the Centre for Health Geoinformatics at NUI Maynooth on behalf of the ICS found people living in deprived areas had a noticeably higher risk of dying from cancer than those in more affluent parts.
ICS nurse helpline: 1800 200 700