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Scotland figures reveal those most likely to die within a month of a diagnosis of bowel or breast cancer

by British Journal of Cancer | News

7 February 2011

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More than six per cent of bowel cancer patients in Scotland died within 30 days of diagnosis according to new research1 published in the British Journal of Cancer.

These people were more likely to be elderly, deprived, have poor general health, have more advanced, aggressive cancers, and be admitted to hospital as an emergency. They were also more likely to have had previous hospital admissions with alcohol or smoking related diseases.

Fewer breast cancer patients died within a month – just under one and a half per cent – but those who did had many of the same characteristics.

Researchers looked at what people most likely to die within 30 days of a cancer diagnosis had in common and analysed the records of more than 36,400 breast and bowel cancer patients in Scotland from 2003 to 2007.

Dr David Brewster, lead researcher based in the NHS National Services Scotland, said: “Our findings are a reminder that survival after a cancer diagnosis depends on a wide range of factors, and not just the quality of treatment.”

For many cancers, survival in the UK is not as good as some European countries, such as Sweden and Norway.

Ongoing research is looking to see whether reasons such as low awareness of signs and symptoms leading to late stage at diagnosis, and levels of other illness and general health might be behind this difference.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s health information director said: “This research gives us new insight into why some cancer patients fare very poorly in the first month after diagnosis. The results emphasise the importance of improving lifestyles, not only to prevent cancer and other major diseases, but also to increase the chances of survival after being diagnosed.

“The most significant lifestyle factors affecting cancer survival identified in this paper are smoking and alcohol which we know also significantly increases the risk of cancer overall.

“We still need to know more about why cancer survival in the UK lags behind that of many other developed nations, and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative – led by Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health in England – is working hard to find the answers.”


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Brewster, D., Clark, D., Stockton, D., Munro, A., & Steele, R. (2011). Characteristics of patients dying within 30 days of diagnosis of breast or colorectal cancer in Scotland, 2003–2007 British Journal of Cancer, 104 (1), 60-67 DOI: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6606036