CANCER patients from deprived backgrounds are more likely to develop life-threatening health problems, research published today (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer* shows.

The study** found that less affluent patients are 50 per cent more likely to develop at least one serious illness like heart disease, tuberculosis, dementia or diabetes, which could reduce their chance of recovering from cancer.

The research looked at over 72,000 patients with 14 different types of cancer*** between 1997 and 2006. The results showed that the likelihood of one-year survival for poorer patients was significantly worse than those who were well-off.

Scientists claimed this was the first large study to show how a cancer patient’s background affected their chances of developing other illnesses and could impact their survival.

Dr Marieke WJ Louwman, one of the study authors based at the Eindhoven Cancer Registry in The Netherlands, said: “Remarkably, we found that additional health disorders were common in patients from a lower socioeconomic background for every cancer type.”

The study outlined possible explanations for increased health problems among poorer cancer patients. Previous research has shown that smoking is a likely cause for the higher risk of heart disease.

This was confirmed by the high number of cases of the disease among patients with smoking-related cancers like lung, stomach, bladder and kidney.

Cancers like pancreatic, breast, womb and bowel have been linked to diabetes which can be triggered by obesity. Previous evidence has shown that obesity is more common among those from a low socioeconomic background.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s worrying to see that survival is considerably worse for deprived patients – this research stresses the need to close the gap between rich and poor in health.

“The results of this study suggest that the causes of the types of cancer and the health problems common among poorer cancer patients are likely to be down to lifestyle.

“More work needs to be done to raise awareness in economically-deprived areas about the risks of smoking and obesity and the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise.”


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*Louwman, W J et al., A 50% higher prevalence of life-shortening chronic conditions among cancer patients with low socioeconomic status, British Journal of Cancer (2010)

**funded by the Dutch Cancer Society

***including stomach, oesophageal, pancreatic, lung, skin, breast, ovarian, prostate, kidney and bladder cancers

British Journal of Cancer

The BJC is owned by Cancer Research UK. Its mission is to encourage communication of the very best cancer research from laboratories and clinics in all countries. Broad coverage, its editorial independence and consistent high standards have made BJC one of the world’s premier general cancer journals.

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