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Report author, Dr Una Macleod
"There was no difference in the treatment received by the women"
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Samantha Poling, health correspondent
"Scientists say closing the wealth gap could save thousands of lives"
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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Cancer care 'same for all'
Breast cancer scan
Breast cancer care is equitable across social class
Well off people receive no better standard of cancer care from the NHS than those from deprived areas, according to research.

Cancer: the facts
The study, by the Cancer Research Campaign, examined the theory that women from deprived areas may receive sub-standard care for breast cancer when compared to their more affluent counterparts.

In fact, the researchers could find no evidence of inferior care among the 400 women from Glasgow who took part in the study.

The NHS appears to deliver health care equitably to women with breast cancer

Dr Una Macleod, Glasgow University

However, Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the CRC, warned that despite the findings, thousands of lives will continue to be lost in the UK if the government fails to tackle social exclusion.

The CRC says that narrowing the division between rich and poor could save up to 2,500 lives each year.

Four-year study

Professor Gordon McVie
Professor Gordon McVie called for government action

The four-year study, published in the British Medical Journal, studied hospital records and GP information from breast cancer patients diagnosed between 1992 and 1993.

Lead researcher, Dr Una Macleod, an expert in primary care oncology at Glasgow University, wanted to discover whether the poorer survival rate among deprived women with breast cancer was related to the quality of care they received from the NHS.

Dr Macleod and her collegues investigated patient access to care from the time of the initial GP consultation to the first visit to the clinic, the type of breast surgery received and the follow-up visits to hospital.

The only significant difference in care was for medical problems unrelated to the cancer.

Dr Macleod said: "The NHS - in Glasgow at least - appears to deliver health care equitably to women with breast cancer.

"Nevertheless, deprived woman have a poorer chance of survival.

"We need to investigate further exactly why that should be."

Differing survival rates

Researchers believe the discrepancy in survival rates between the rich and poor is partly due to the long-term impact on health of poor living conditions.

People who live in sub-standard housing have less immunity to fight disease

Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign

However, Professor McVie said: "People in deprived areas consult their GP when the cancer is more advanced.

"This may be due to lack of awareness or they may not have the confidence to ask the doctor questions when the first tell-tale signs appear.

"I am concerned that poverty itself might be the real enemy. People who live in sub-standard housing, have few creature comforts, a poor diet and are often smokers.

"This means they have less immunity to fight disease."

Professor McVie called on the government to put social inclusion high on the agenda.

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