Research reveals ethnic disparities in cancer rates

  • Date: 07 March 2022

ANALYSIS by Cancer Research UK has revealed that White people in England are more than twice as likely to get some types of cancer, including melanoma skin cancer, oesophageal, bladder and lung cancers compared with people from Black, Asian or Mixed ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

This is likely in part due to preventable risk factors such as smoking and obesity.

But prostate cancer, myeloma, stomach and liver cancer were found to be more common in Black people, and Asian people are more likely to get liver cancer.

Researchers looked at variations in cancer incidence rates (the average number of new cancer cases for every 100,000 people per year) between Asian, Black, Mixed ethnicity and White ethnic groups in England, as recorded by the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service using data direct from hospitals. The team used data from between 2013 and 2017, taking into account differences in population size and age by using age-standardised rates rather than numbers of cases.

Lung, bowel, breast and prostate cancers were the four most common cancer types in all broad ethnic groups.

The researchers believe that the differences in cancer incidence between different ethnic backgrounds are likely driven mainly by non-genetic cancer risk factors. Smoking and obesity – the two largest preventable causes of cancer in the UK – have historically been higher in White people and this is likely to at least partially explain the differences seen in certain types of cancer, including bowel, breast and lung cancers.

Genetics are also likely to play at least a small role.

This new research published in the British Journal of Cancer is the first analysis in over 10 years looking at which ethnic groups in England are more likely to get cancer.

Dr Christine Delon, lead author of the paper, commented: "It’s really important to understand what the evidence is, where there are inequalities in cancer incidence, to inform efforts in risk factor prevention and cancer service planning and delivery.

"Patient survey data has shown that when people from ethnic minority backgrounds do get cancer, they feel less satisfied with their care and have less confidence in health professionals, compared with people from the White ethnic group,” said Delon. “They are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and have lower survival for some cancer types.

"We need to make sure that people of every ethnic group, and every background, get the diagnosis and treatment they need, so that everyone can have the best possible outcomes."

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