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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
North-South cancer divide mapped
New cancer maps reveal people in the north of England and Scotland are far more likely to get certain cancers than those living in the South.

The Office for National Statistics "Cancer Atlases" for the 1990s show an obvious North-South divide for cancers.

Scots and Northerners are more prone to lung and stomach cancer, which appear to be linked to smoking and alcohol use as well as socio-economic deprivation.

Cancer prevention experts said the data showed deprived areas needed targeting.

North-South divide

The ONS estimates that over 25,000 of the cancers and 17,000 of the cancer deaths could be preventable - around three quarters by helping smokers quit and drinkers cut down on their alcohol consumption.

It is crucial that preventative actions are implemented first in those areas where cancer is particularly high
A Department of Health Spokeswoman

The incidence and death rates for cancers of the lung, larynx, lip, mouth and pharynx - all known to be related to heavy smoking and alcohol intake - were lower than average in the south and midlands of England, but higher than average across the north of England and Scotland between 1991 and 2000.

Geographical patterns for bladder, kidney, oesophageal (gullet) and stomach cancers were similar.

Diseases of the poor

Scotland also came out worse for colorectal cancer, along with Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Rates of cervical cancer were higher than average in the north of England, urban west midlands and, again, in Scotland, but were not related to local cancer screening differences.

Click below for comparison of male and female cases

There was little geographical variation in the incidence and death rates of breast, ovary and prostate cancers, however. The ONS looked at 21 different cancers overall.

The incidence of all cancers combined in Scotland, England and Wales rose gradually over the 1970s and 1980s then levelled off in the 1990s to over 270,000, partly due to better diagnosis, says the ONS.

The most common remain lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the data would help the NHS plan its work towards beating cancer.

"It is crucial that preventative actions to help people lead a healthy lifestyle are implemented first in those areas where prevalence of cancer is particularly high.

"This is why we have recently established a group of the 88 most health deprived areas in England who will be the first to pilot initiatives such as health trainers and enhanced Stop Smoking Services as set out in the White Paper on Public Health."

On target

She said the data in this report pre-dated the Cancer Plan, which was published in 2000 and set out a comprehensive programme of work over 10 years aimed at tackling cancer inequalities.

"Five years in, we are seeing results - there has been a 12% reduction in cancer mortality since 1997 - well on the way to achieving the Government's aim of a 20% reduction by 2010."

Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that half of all cancers - equivalent to around 135,000 cases a year in the UK - could be prevented by changes to lifestyle."

He said tackling exposure to secondhand smoke at work, which causes more than 600 deaths each year across the UK, would help and backed a new call for a total ban on smoking in public plances.

Cancer Research UK's Chief Executive, Professor Alex Markham, said: "All workers have a right to work in a smokefree environment, and a comprehensive ban on smoking in enclosed public places - without exemptions - is the only practical way we can give them the protection they deserve.

"Ireland has shown that smokefree legislation works best when it contains as few exemptions as possible. Scotland's courage in adopting similarly comprehensive legislation sets yet another example to Westminster."

Macmillan Cancer Relief said money must be invested to identify the barriers that are preventing some disadvantaged groups from accessing cancer services.

Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "There are a range of socio-economic factors that contribute to the North-South divide in cancer rates. But there are still measures, such as the even distribution of vital drugs, which the government has failed to introduce."

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