Cancer victory for Lothians

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CANCER death rates in the Lothians are among the lowest in Scotland, the latest figures have revealed.

New government figures show that although the death rate rose by four per cent in 2011 compared with the previous year – and was the highest since 2005 – only the Grampian area had an overall lower mortality rate, with its 264.2 fatalities per 100,000 people at risk slightly smaller than the 265.1 recorded in Lothian.

But concerns have been raised after it emerged that across Scotland, cancer patients in the country’s most deprived areas are 76 per cent more likely to lose their battle with the disease than those who lived in the wealthiest communities.

The disease claimed the lives of 2250 people in the Lothians last year, which is the highest figure yet recorded – but because of the soaring population the death rate was lower than 20 years ago, when 2137 died of the disease.

Professor David Cameron, who is professor of oncology at Edinburgh University and director of NHS Cancer Services at NHS Lothian, said the lower death rate in Lothian may be due to its more affluent population and a more efficient way of providing care.

He said: “It’s really good news that things are getting better for patients and there’s no question that survival rates are continuing to improve.

“There are a number of reasons that Lothian performs well. It may be to do with social class and if you compare west with east, our model of delivery is probably simpler. The west has twice the population which makes it a harder service to deliver, while our surgical units are more centralised.”

Prof Cameron said he supported more research into why cancer patients from more deprived backgrounds had lower survival rates. Even though smoking rates are generally higher in less affluent areas, he said some evidence suggested inequality remained even when allowing for factors that could be controlled by patients.

“We’re pleased to see death rates reducing, but clearly we need to find out why they are not as good in some areas as others,” he added. “It’s not as simple as just saying it’s one thing or another. We need research to see what it is about the way people live that leads to poor outcomes, and what we can do to make it easier for people to live healthier lifestyles.”

In Lothian last year, 583 people died as a result of lung cancer or Mesothelioma, bowel cancer killed 239, breast cancer claimed the lives of 159 while 28 passed away because of skin cancer.

Over the last 10 years, death rates among lung, breast and bowel cancers in Lothian have fallen, although the number of people dying because of skin cancer has steadily increased, with the 28 fatalities last year – or a rate of 3.3 per 100,000 – the highest on record.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “The fact more people are surviving cancer is a tribute to the NHS workers and charities who have worked so hard to improve Scotland’s record over recent years.

“But there are still real problem in relation to deprivation. Cancer patients in Scotland’s most deprived zones are considerably less likely to survive their cancer than those in wealthier parts. Health messages in areas of deprivation are simply not getting through, and we have to understand why that is.”