Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 10:14 UK

Cancer deaths 'higher in north'

Smoking
Smoking appears to be the key factor

Death rates from cancer are higher among people living in the north than in the rest of England, research shows.

The National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) looked at data from 2005, and found death rates in the north were around 20% higher.

Cancer deaths were lowest in the south and midlands.

Experts believe higher smoking rates in the north could be the major factor - but not the only one - behind the stark north-south divide.

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Lung cancer, which is overwhelmingly associated with tobacco smoking, is the biggest cause of cancer death in men across England.

The figures show that 68 per 100,000 men in the North of England Cancer Network died from lung cancer in 2005, compared with the England average of 51.

In contrast, the Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire Cancer Network had the lowest rate of deaths from lung cancer, with around 36 men in every 100,000 dying from the disease.

Among men, the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease was prostate cancer, with an average of 97 men per 100,000 being diagnosed in 2005. However, there was no clear regional difference in the pattern of diagnosis.

Experts believe that greater awareness of prostate cancer may be partly responsible for the increase in diagnoses.

Breast cancer

In women, breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in every Cancer Network, with rates higher in the south. The highest rate of fatal cases was reported in Dorset, with almost 52 women in every 100,000 dying from the disease.

It is thought that breast cancer rates may be higher in the south because affluent women tend to delay having children.

However, rates of lung cancer in women were higher in the north.

Researcher Professor David Forman, from the University of Leeds, said: "These figures show us that some of the past trends aren't changing - cancer death rates remain higher in the north than the rest of England.

"Smoking is responsible for nearly nine in ten cases of lung cancer. More people in the north smoke, and this explains why lung cancer rates are so much higher.

"There are also higher levels of deprivation in the north, which could contribute to cancer risk through other means - we know that deprivation is linked to later diagnosis, which can affect mortality."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said tackling health inequalities was a top priority of the government's Cancer Reform Strategy, and a National Cancer Equality Initative had been set up to address the issue.

Local targets would be established to cut cancer deaths in every cancer network area by 2012.

The NCIN is a new project that will bring together up to 22 million NHS cancer records from the 30 cancer networks in England to create the world's largest patient-based cancer data.

It will initially focus on England but with a view to include information from across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Professor Sir Alex Markham, NCIN chair, said: "Data like this are vitally important if we are to work out why there are variations across the country in the chances of getting and dying from cancer, and how to tackle this."

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