Stark regional variations on cancer rates revealed

Lawrence McGinty

Former Science and Medical Editor

The rates of cancer in Liverpool are 25% higher than the national average. Credit: ITV News

I've got nothing against Liverpool, but I have to say that it's making a strong bid to be England's capital of cancer.

We asked Cancer Research UK to sift through their regional statistics to find the best and worst places in England for cancer.

Their statistics experts were a bit reluctant to pick out any one place as the best or worst because there are several places vying for those titles.

But the regional variations in cancer are really shocking. In Liverpool, for example, the overall rate of cancer incidence is 25% above the national average.

Take an individual cancer like lung cancer and the contrast is even starker - you are three times as likely to die of lung cancer if you live in Liverpool than if you live in a more affluent area like Harrow, Middlesex.

Read: Breakdown of contrasting cancer rates across England

Leena Chagla, a cancer consultant at St Helens Hospital told us much of that is down to deprivation.

In Liverpool 25% of people smoke - in Harrow, it's 10 percentage points less.

But, she says, there's more to it than that. In poorer areas people are less likely to go for cancer screening. And screening is crucial because many cancers can be treated successfully if they are detected early.

When we went to Harrow, we saw that in action. Harrow is in one of six areas that have been piloting a new screening programme for bowel cancer.

Everyone over 55 gets an invitation. Doctors insert a mini-camera in a flexible tube into the bowel to look for polyps - small growths inside that can turn into cancer. If they find them, they snip them off.

Preston Berry doesn't look 55 but he is and he'd just had the test. It was, he told us uncomfortable but not painful.

His father had died of bowel cancer 10 years ago. If the test had been available then, he might have survived.

The screening programme, they hope, will save 3000 lives a year and is being rolled out nationally. Let's hope it will help to diminish those huge differences in regional survival rates.

That's a big challenge for the austerity NHS - and in the next couple of days were going to look at the factors behind those regional differences and how we compare internationally.

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