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Wednesday, 23 September, 1998, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
Poor at risk through cancer treatment delay
rundown estate
Women from deprived areas visit their GP later
Women from deprived social backgrounds are more likely to die from breast cancer because they tend to visit their doctors when the disease is more advanced, research has found.

The Cancer Research Fund, which is behind the research, says affluent women tend to see their GP while the disease is in its early stages, when it is more likely to be treated successfully.

The finding suggests that an improved programme of public health education is required.

The research follows a report published in the British Medical Journal in 1994 which found that the most affluent women in Glasgow were 10% more likely to survive for five years after breast cancer.

In some quarters, this was taken to suggest that the NHS treated poorer women unfairly.

Possible explanations

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said that, in the light of the new research, patient education or financial hardships were more plausible reasons for the finding.

He said: "Until our research is complete, we can only speculate on why women from disadvantaged parts of Glasgow present with more advanced cancer.

"But possible explanations are that they may be less alert to the warning signs of breast cancer or they may put off seeing their doctor because of socio-economic reasons, such as transport difficulties."

The study began in 1995 and has followed 406 women from Glasgow with breast cancer - 260 from deprived areas and 146 from affluent areas.

It found that 15% of the women from deprived areas first visited their GP with advanced cancerous tumours.

Financial difference

Only 6% of the women from affluent areas attended in a similar condition.

breast scan
Early diagnosis improves chances
Dr Una Mcleod, the lead researcher on the project, said: "This is very worrying because the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome should be."

The research also showed that there was no difference between the women in terms of the NHS treatment they received.

The final results of the research are due to form the basis for guidelines for GPs on how to handle breast cancer.

The study also aims to answer other questions:

  • Do women from deprived areas need additional psychological support such as counselling?
  • What can GPs do to improve the care of women with breast cancer?
  • What do women who have had the disease feel about their care?
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