Healthy Body

Lower class bracket increases cancer death risk

In the last stages of cancer, the body begins to shut down. Fatigue, loss of appetite and trouble breathing are all common occurrences in people facing the end of their fight, along with the intense emotional struggles that come with having cancer. It is something no person should have to face – but unfortunately, new studies show that some areas in Dublin deal with it more than others.

A recent report conducted by NUI Maynooth showed that death rates as a result of cancer can almost double in poorer areas of Dublin as opposed to more affluent areas. From 2009 to 2011, cancer death rates were measured in a number of areas in the city, including Foxrock, Malahide, Ballymun and Blanchardstown.   

The investigation, compiled by Dr. Jan Rigby, showed death rates by cancer of 128 per 100,000 in the east Castleknock area rising to as high as 381 per 100,000 in Blakestown on the north side of the city. The study was covered in newspapers throughout the country, with many people commenting on the starkness of health inequalities in Dublin.

The Western world has seen huge developments in cancer research and innovation in the last number of years – just last month, the news broke that doctors in the University of Chicago had found a new drug that can eradicate human lung tumours transplanted into mice. This is just one of many new developments in cancer research happening every day across the globe. So why then, are the fruits of this labour not being enjoyed equally by all?

Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Irish Cancer Society, said of the report that:

“Despite the strides made in cancer diagnosis and treatment in the last few decades, Ireland has become a very unequal society when it comes to health problems, particularly cancer and access to healthcare.”

 “Health inequalities are often observed along a social gradient. This means that the more favourable your social circumstances such as income or education, the better your chance of enjoying good health and a longer life,” said The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH).

There could be an abundance of reasons why these health inequalities occur – after all, our health system has had no end of controversy in recent years here in Ireland, and hospitals in poorer areas are often cited as having the most severe issues.

During the period of the study (2009-2011), health expenditure in Ireland was cut by €1.75 billion.

In addition to this, A&E costs and prescription charges have also risen. Ms. O’Meara said that a huge issue in this instance is people in poorer areas not having access to healthcare, and that poorer areas in Dublin do not have enough health resources.

For example, in North Dublin there is an average of one GP per 2,500 people, compared to the national average of one per 1,600. There’s no doubt that there’s a huge issue with health inequalities in Dublin, but for such a large issue, there has been surprisingly little definitive research done into it. People are left to wonder how these inequalities can affect them, and what should be done to prevent them

In October of this year, the Irish Cancer Society announced their second Health Inequalities and Cancer Research Grant, which is set to commence later this month. The grant will provide funding for the researcher (who will be announced in the next couple of weeks) of up to €120,000 for a project of 12 month’s duration. With such a huge amount of funding, the grant is set to be huge step forward in the research of cancer inequalities.

Amanda Daly, Cancer Research Manager with the Society, said that the purpose of the grant would be to “The purpose of the grant would be to improve outcomes for under-served and marginalised communities,” said Amanda Daly, Cancer Research Manager with the society.

She also said that it would look at cancer care in terms of “screening, early diagnosis, treatment, follow-up, palliative and respite care.”

The research also won’t just focus on inequalities in socio-economic groups, but will look at groupings by age, gender, income, disability and access to private healthcare as well. It is hoped that the research will go towards providing recommendations on new actions for the Irish Cancer Society to combat health inequalities nationwide.

About 30,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in Ireland, with this figure set to rise to over 40,000 by 2020. This equates to 40,000 individuals facing fatigue, loss of appetite and trouble breathing – facing losing their fight.

According to the recent report, the majority of these individuals will reside in poorer areas. But the Irish Cancer Society says there is hope.

 “This year for the first time in seven years the health budget was increased. As well as this, there has been Government recognition that health inequalities are damaging to the wellbeing of the country,” said O’Meara.

For the areas badly affected by cutbacks and rising health costs, this recognition cannot come quick enough.