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Macmillan finds cancer survival 'postcode lottery'

"Cancer postcode lottery 'costs 6,000 lives a year'," reports The Times. This, and similar headlines, are based on cancer survival figures compiled by Macmillan Cancer Support...

“Cancer postcode lottery ‘costs 6,000 lives a year’,” reports The Times.

This, and similar headlines, are based on cancer survival figures compiled by Macmillan Cancer Support. The cancer charity’s report suggests that the proportion of people who die within a year of a cancer diagnosis is two-thirds higher in poor-performing areas, compared with high-performing areas.

These are shocking statistics, but it’s important to bear in mind that one-year cancer survival rates don’t give us the whole picture about the state of cancer care in England.

Best one-year cancer survival rates

The healthcare regions with the best outlook in 2011, where the lowest proportions of people died within 12 months of diagnosis, were:

  • North East Hampshire and Farnham (24%)
  • Central London – Westminster (27%)
  • Richmond (28%)
  • Barnet (28%)
  • Leeds North (29%)
  • West Hampshire (29%)
  • South Devon and Torbay (29%)
  • Surrey Heath (29%)
  • Stockport (29%)
  • Dorset (29%)

In a press release, MacMillan reports that around 6,000 more people could survive for at least 12 months after their cancer diagnosis if average survival across the whole of England matched the top 10% of local healthcare regions.

It identified areas such as Telford, Medway and Dagenham as having among the lowest cancer survival rates. Leafy Surrey, Dorset and Richmond had among the best cancer survival rates, according to the charity.

MacMillan suggests that the differences in survival could be explained by differences in waiting times for urgent referrals and start of treatment, which should be a set standard across the country. The charity calls for this “looming crisis” in cancer care to be addressed.


What does the MacMillan cancer survival report say?

MacMillan used data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to find the estimates for one-year survival for all types of cancer combined for all adults (aged 15 to 99) in 2011.

The average one-year survival for the whole of England was 68%. This means that roughly two-thirds of all people in England diagnosed with cancer survived for 12 months after they were diagnosed, and a third of people died by 12 months. In the 10% of regions with the best one-year survival rates in the UK, one-year survival was almost three-quarters, at 71%.


What is the reason for the differences in one-year cancer survival?

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