New data reveals true extent of inequity in survival of cancer

Friday 31 January, 2020

A new study, published in PLOS One today, has revealed that socio-economically disadvantaged people have lower cancer survival than more advantaged people, despite overall improvements in cancer survival due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.

The Cancer Council Victoria and University of Melbourne-led population-based study used data from the Victorian Cancer Registry, and analysed factors for each cancer including date of diagnosis, tumour anatomical location, morphology, stage, as well as patient name, address, date of birth and sex.

Lead researcher Nina Afshar said identifying the underlying reasons for survival inequalities is paramount for future research.

“We aimed to assess differences in cancer survival by area level socio-economic disadvantage using the Victorian Cancer Registry data. More than 331,000 Victorian residents diagnosed between January 1, 2001 and December 30, 2015 with one of the 29 incident cancers considered were included in the analyses.” 

The study also showed differences in survival by cancer-type and when they were diagnosed. For leukaemia and cancers of the pancreas and brain/CNS, lower survival for people living in more disadvantaged areas was mainly evident in the first year of diagnosis, while for lung and ovarian cancer, it was apparent within three years after diagnosis.

“People living in more disadvantaged areas had lower five-year survival than residents of less disadvantaged regions for 21 of 29 cancer types including bowel, breast, prostate, lung and melanoma.”

Co-author Professor Dallas English, from Cancer Council Victoria, said this study shows that gaps in survival are not narrowing.

“Previous studies may have overestimated the effect of socio-economic position on cancer mortality, but this study shows that people living in disadvantaged areas still have lower survival than those in less disadvantaged areas.”

“This study uses comprehensive methods which show us the real extent of a person’s socio-economic status on their cancer survival. By understanding what causes the margin in survival we may be able to identify effective interventions to increase survival for disadvantaged cancer patients.”