Revealed - The gap in cancer survival rates
PUBLISHED: 08:56 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:23 05 April 2019
Cancer campaigners have hit out at a ‘postcode lottery’ which sees more people survive the illness in west Suffolk than in east Suffolk and Ipswich.
More people than ever before are beating cancer in Suffolk and north Essex, according to new data published every three years, but rates of survival are still below average in certain areas.
While the West Suffolk clinical commissioning group (CCG) had one of the best survival rates in the country at 74.1% for one year after diagnosis, Ipswich and east Suffolk CCG was ranked 142nd out of 209 in England – in the bottom third, with 71.6%.
West Suffolk and north east Essex stood at 36th and 111th respectively.
What have campaigners said?
Gina Long, whose daughter is five years clear from cancer, feels the newly published figures – which cover the period 2013 to 2016 – point to a postcode lottery.
“It is wrong that if one lives in west Suffolk, their chances of surviving cancer is greater than in east Suffolk,” she said.
“How can that be happening in this day and age?
“I am dismayed on many levels. For there to be such a disparity rings many alarm bells.
“Wherever one lives – whether we are in Suffolk or anywhere in the UK – the least we should expect is that we are all coming from a level playing field.
“Clearly this is not the case in Suffolk.
“It leaves many questions unanswered, and I sit uneasily with that.”
Meanwhile, bowel cancer survivor Gareth Grayston said quicker diagnosis could help save more lives.
He claims his GPs suggested taking more vitamins and diagnosed him with stress, prompting a delay in treatment.
“It wasn’t until I almost fainted that I eventually went to A&E where they did a blood test,” he said.
“That’s why it doesn’t really surprise me that there’s a gap in survival rates. Hospital treatment was great but there was a delay in diagnosis, which needs to change.”
What are survival rates like for specific cancers?
Survival rates for specific cancers differed greatly in Ipswich and east Suffolk.
Fewer than four in 10 people – 37.5% – survived lung cancer a year after diagnosis, 2016 figures show.
This was significantly below the national average of 41.6%.
However, more people survived breast cancer in Ipswich a year after diagnosis than most parts of the country, at a rate of 97.7%.
Meanwhile, the north east Essex district recorded below average survival rates average for lung, colorectal and breast cancers.
West Suffolk was above or met the national average for all three.
Why is there a difference in survival rates?
Health chiefs say the differences could be due to deprivation, given the demographics of Ipswich, east Suffolk and north east Essex compared with west Suffolk.
Mendlesham doctor Peter Holloway, lead GP for cancer in Ipswich and east Suffolk, said cancer survival rates in both east and west are improving.
“These new figures show that the West Suffolk CCG area has one of the best cancer survival rates in the country and that the Ipswich and east Suffolk CCG area continues to see improvement in survival rates,” he added.
“There are many factors involved in cancer survival rates, although cancer survival is generally lower among people from more deprived areas.
“Our CCGs work with GPs, local hospitals and Public Health Suffolk who all share the same commitment to ensuring as many people as possible survive cancer.
“A positive outcome is best achieved for the patient if they get the cancer diagnosis early on.
He said: “Our CCGs are committed to increasing the levels of early diagnosis and, with our healthcare partners, have worked hard to raise awareness of cancer symptoms.
“As part of the local STP both CCGs are set to receive additional funding which will enable even more focus on early diagnosis, speeding up treatment pathways in prostate, lung and colorectal cancers and raising the standard of community care as more people survive their cancer. People should always seek advice from their GP if they have any concerns about cancer symptoms. It’s always best to get checked out.”
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said all differences in patient experience across the county should be explored. He will be raising the discrepancies at the next meeting of the Suffolk and north east Essex integrated care system board.
Mr Yacoub added: “Any differences in patient experience across our county, such as these cancer outcome figures, should be explored.
“It is right to expect that our access to services and effective treatments should be the same regardless of where we live.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the north east Essex CCG said they have also seen cancer survival rates in their district improve.
They have implemented various initiatives, such developing a ‘vague symptoms clinic’ which they hope will reduce delays in care, and hopefully prompt quicker diagnosis.
“We have, however, seen some deterioration in the uptake for the national screening programmes, with cancer survival rates below the national average one year after diagnosis,” the spokesman added.
“Cancer survival rates are impacted by many factors, including that they are generally lower among people from more deprived areas.”
MP who beat cancer twice says action is needed
Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, has battled the disease twice – once when she was 31, and again at 46.
She said there are many variants of the disease, and stressed the importance of early diagnosis.
“Ensuring patient’s voices are heard during their journey is an important part of making sure a patient can access the best possible care and treatment once diagnosed,” she said.
“So, I am pleased by the west Suffolk cancer statistics.
“Latest figures show breast cancer survival and other cancers are improving in west Suffolk – however there is still work to be done, particularly for those accessing treatment in the east of the county. She added: “It is important that we share best practice to ensure that improvement continues.
“We all know early diagnosis including screening is beneficial and that the earlier one is diagnosed the better.
“It is therefore important that people across the county have access to screening and take the opportunity up when offered.
“Both treatment pathways and support are vitally important once a patient has been diagnosed.
“The emotions a patient goes through after a diagnosis can be overwhelming, not just for them but also for their family and friends.”