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UK health inequalities cause extra 33,000 cancer cases each year

Cancer Research UK study reveals 33,000 avoidable cancer cases are diagnosed each year due to inequalities in UK healthcare

A photo of Dom Limberg, the author

By Dom Limberg

Published on: 16 October 2023

5 min read

UK health inequalities cause extra 33,000 cancer cases each year

I was shocked by the outcome of a recent study by Cancer Research UK, which suggested that there are around 33,000 avoidable cases of cancer diagnosed every year. The main reason for these cases was health inequalities in the UK, with some areas having access to far better care and health information than others.

This is outrageous that in this day and age where you live and how much money you have can still affect your likelihood of developing cancer. There have been calls on the government to do more to tackle these issues – which we at MPO fully agree with!

The NHS has been struggling for a long while, even before the recent covid-19 pandemic, leaving many people understandably less than confident in the level of care and services available. This is why many UK consumers are showing an interest in private health insurance due to higher quality care and faster diagnosis times – a key concern for anyone worried about cancer.

QUICK SUMMARY – UK health inequalities cause an extra 33,000 cancer cases each year

A study has been conducted by leading charity Cancer Research UK into UK cancer cases with shocking findings. Currently around 33,000 cases of cancer each year are totally preventable and a result of unfair inequalities in the UK healthcare system.

  • Many factors have added to this issue including public funding cuts of £800million since 2015 and difficulties in accessing care and information in poorer areas.
  • The government have promised to ‘level up’ (claims we have heard before) to improve the health of UK consumers by tackling cancer risk factors like smoking and obesity. It’s important that they actually address health inequalities to help promote good health and reduce mortality rates.
  • If you’re worried about the cancer services available through the NHS, you won’t be the only one. Many UK consumers are now considering private health insurance for exactly this reason – though admittedly this might not work for everyone. It can be helpful to speak to a health insurance specialist for expert advice and support about this.

Leading cancer charity Cancer Research UK conducted a study this year about health outcomes and your likelihood of developing cancer.

I don’t expect most people will want to sit down and read a full length study, so I’ve rounded up the main and important points found by Cancer Research UK.

  • 33,000 extra cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK every year which are associated with ‘deprivation’ – these cases are avoidable if bigger issues with inequality in healthcare are resolved
  • There have been huge cuts to spending on public health grounds (around £800million less spent since 2015). This is caused issues with schemes that promote health and lifestyle choices that can reduce cancer risks.
  • Lung cancer is the main cause of these extra cancer cases – People with lower incomes from more ‘deprived’ areas are more likely to be smokers which increases cancer risk.
  • Cases of lung cancer are almost doubled in poorer areas compared to wealthy areas in the UK.
  • People in lower income areas are more likely to be overweight or obese – another health conditions which is a main risk factor for cancer that is preventable
  • Over 9% of cancer cases were caused by ‘deprivation’ – 90 people every day are diagnosed with cancer where it could have been avoidable
  • People living in lower income areas are often less aware of cancer symptoms and so aren’t diagnosed until later. They also often cannot get doctor’s appointments at times to suit them meaning they’re often diagnosed at later stages.

What can the government do to help?

Following the results of this study being published, Cancer Research UK have called on the UK government to do better in tackling health inequalities and cancer risk factors.

Dr Ian Walker (Executive Director of Policy and Information for Cancer Research UK) has described these finding as showing ‘injustice’ in the current systems. It’s astonishing that around 90 cancer cases diagnosed every day are completely avoidable and as Dr Walker said:

““If we didn’t have inequalities across risk factors, if we didn’t have inequalities across signs and symptoms awareness, if we didn’t have inequalities across access to primary and secondary healthcare, then they’re avoidable.”

I’m worried about my risk of cancer, what should I do?

It’s totally understandable to worry about your risk of developing cancer, especially after reading studies like this. I personally have lost several close family members to cancer, so I know that I am at higher risk of developing it at some point in my life and worry about this myself.

I’ve found through doing some digging online that there are some great resources and support if you have questions around cancer. There are some brilliant resources from charities such as:

Though we should be able to rely solely on the NHS, many people are now considering opting for private healthcare.

This makes a lot of sense as it could mean faster diagnosis, which is a key worry most of the time. I certainly wouldn’t want to be left waiting if I was experiencing worrying symptoms. Private hospitals can often offer better resources and services for health and wellbeing and long term health concerns.

The issue with private healthcare is that it’s often expensive and inaccessible for people on a lower salary. Private health insurance can be used in situations like this to help reduce the cost. Many private health insurance providers are fully aware of how concerned people are around cancer meaning they will usually include decent level of cancer cover as standard.

Some of the best providers for cancer cover that I’ve seen on the market currently are:

  • Bupa – includes comprehensive cancer cover including access to breakthrough therapies and drugs, home chemotherapy options and specialist centres for fast diagnosis (breast and bowel cancer).
  • Aviva – includes full cover for treatment and cover for monitoring and aftercare (for 5 years after recovery)
  • Vitality Health – includes advanced cancer cover as standard which pays out for standard treatments, alternative therapies and full cover for any surgeries (including reconstruction)

Note: While private health insurance will help lower the cost of private medical care, it’s not always going to be affordable for everyone. it’s worth considering your own situation and whether you can afford to pay out for this. It can be useful to speak to a private health insurance expert for extra support and guidance.

More health news and guides

For more of the latest information and tips around UK healthcare and health insurance, you can check out some of our handy MPO guides.

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