Survival rates for people with cancers of the stomach, colon, liver, lung, breast and prostate are significantly worse for those living in lower socioeconomic areas, research from Cancer Council NSW, says
Researchers looked at socioeconomic inequality and cancer survival in a cohort of 377,493 people from NSW diagnosed with one of any 10 major cancer types between 1996 and 2000 or between 2004 and 2008. Of the 52,003 deaths up to five years after diagnosis that were caused by cancer, 7,213 (13%) of the deaths in lower socioeconomic areas could have been prevented if disadvantages, such as higher smoking rates and poor access to general practitioners, did not exist. The relative survival rate increased over time for most cancers. However, the socioeconomic disparities observed in the first period (1996–2000) remained similar in the later period (2004–2008).
Although it has long been known that people in lower socioeconomic areas suffer from worse health than their wealthier counterparts, it is the first time researchers have examined whether the gap in cancer survival rates have improved over time. There were a range of disadvantages faced by lower socioeconomic areas, such as higher smoking and drinking rates, lower incomes, poorer access to health services and an environment less conductive to exercise. Lung cancer disparities were especially notable, and he reflected that smoking, once a habit more broadly spread throughout society, was now primarily seen in lower socioeconomic groups.
Professor Dianne O’Connell said, “In other words, survival has improved in time across the board, but the improvement in the higher socioeconomic areas was about the same in lower socioeconomic areas, so the gap in survival rates remained the same in each time period,” she said. “We didn’t close the gap over time.”
Professor of public health with Curtin University, Mike Daube, said the research confirmed more was needed to address the causes and consequences of inequality. “There is a huge international literature showing that disadvantaged groups get a raw deal in health,” Daube said. “They do worse at all stages of life, have less access to good healthcare and have worse outcomes. There is no instant solution, and this is one of the biggest challenges for our health system. It is so unfair that people are sicker and dying younger because of their economic circumstances.”