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Inequalities cause 2,000 extra cancer cases in Wales

Tim Gunn
by Tim Gunn | News

8 June 2023

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Senedd Cymru, or the Welsh Parliament.
The Senedd in Cardiff, home of the Welsh Parliament. (Roger Utting/

Cancer patients in Wales face unacceptable health inequalities.

Our research estimates that around 2,000 extra cancer cases a year are attributable to deprivation in the country.

In other words, inequalities due to deprivation mean that, on average, more than five people in Wales are diagnosed with an avoidable cancer every day.

With their recent cancer plan, the Welsh Government and NHS Wales have a chance to change that.

The All Things Being Equal inquiry

These new stats form part of a landmark report published today by the Cross-Party Group on Cancer in the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament).

The All Things Being Equal inquiry reveals that those living in the poorest areas of Wales are more at risk of developing cancer. Our analysis has also found that cancer death rates are 55% higher in the most deprived Welsh populations than the least deprived.

The inquiry, which we helped lead, calls for drastic improvements in how Wales tackles cancer inequalities – and it offers recommendations for how to implement them.

What’s causing cancer inequalities in Wales?

Lung cancer is responsible for around half of the extra cases linked to deprivation. That’s largely because smoking is much more common in more deprived areas.

People living in more deprived areas are also more likely to be overweight or obese, which is the second biggest preventable risk factor for cancer after smoking. They’re also less likely to go for screening.

And the disparities don’t end after diagnosis. Some people can’t access treatment as easily as others.

If you live in a rural area or don’t own a car, getting to hospital can be a real struggle. Not everyone can take time off work for lengthy appointments, either.

“Some of the results of our inquiry have been truly shocking,” said David Rees MS, Chair of the Senedd’s Cross-Party Group on Cancer. “Our report shines a light on unacceptable health inequalities facing patients and we are calling for urgent action to ensure everyone has the same chance of beating cancer.”

Lewis Griffiths
Lewis Griffiths had to stop working after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. (Picture by Richard Williams)

No-one talks about the impact cancer has on finances and it feels like there is no support from the Welsh Government to help people financially when they go through cancer.

- Lewis Griffiths

Too ill to work: Lewis’s story

“Beating cancer should be beating cancer for all,” agreed Lewis Griffiths, a dad of five from Cardiff.

He knows the financial strain that can come with cancer – and how money worries can make treatment more difficult.

Lewis, 33, was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2022 – amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis.

The side-effects of his chemotherapy meant he had to stop working. In turn, that meant he struggled to pay his mortgage and household bills.

“I remember sitting in a blanket, freezing cold and feeling rubbish after treatment. I wanted to save what was left on the meter for when the children got back from school.”

Soon, the self-employed plumber felt he had no other option but to go back to work.

“I was exhausted from chemo but tried to keep working to provide for my family.”

If only that were possible.

“Even lifting a bag of cement was difficult and treatment caused numbness in my hands, which means putting a bathroom together is really difficult. I wanted to work but just couldn’t do it.”

Lewis believes patients should be allowed to focus on their treatment rather than having to deal with financial worries.

“I just wanted to concentrate on getting better, but the money situation was so hard,” he said. “It was really stressful.

“No-one talks about the impact cancer has on finances and it feels like there is no support from the Welsh Government to help people financially when they go through cancer.”

Looking forward

Lewis’s cousin, Rhian, set up a fundraising page to help Lewis and his family.

The fundraiser has drawn £8,399 in donations towards its £9,000 target. You can donate here.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by people’s generosity,” said Lewis. “The money raised has meant we have been able to pay our bills and buy food. We were also able to buy the kids Christmas presents.”

Lewis is now waiting for more tests after responding well to a second phase of treatment, including a bone marrow transplant.

“I’m so grateful to all the doctors and nurses who have looked after me. The care I’ve received has been brilliant.”


Tackling cancer inequalities in Wales

“It is unacceptable that people in Wales are more likely to get cancer and die from cancer if they live in an area of higher deprivation,” said Andy Glyde, our senior external affairs manager in Wales.

The Welsh Government recently announced a new cancer plan. Now more than ever, we know it must deal with inequalities directly.

In particular, the All Things Being Equal report recommends tackling risk factors like smoking and obesity. Introducing lung screening would also help catch more cases early, making them easier to treat.

For that to work best, the Welsh cancer plan should also focus on removing barriers that might stop some people going for screening, or visiting the doctor when they notice symptoms. You can read the full report to find out more.

“We can only succeed in our mission of beating cancer if everyone affected by the disease has the same chances,” concluded Glyde. “Now is the time to go further and faster to ensure that beating cancer means beating cancer for everyone.”