Survival chances vary wildly for the 42,000 women diagnosed every year – and a lack of cancer specialists as posts go unfilled and many hit retirement age is creating a “demographic time bomb”.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer spent a year gathering evidence from NHS leaders, clinicians, patients and charities on the likelihood of under-75s dying from breast cancer.
The Clinical Commissioning Group for Tower Hamlets, East London, performed best with 13.3 per 100,000 dying.
This was less the half the rate in the worst-performing CCG, covering Newark and Sherwood, Notts, at 31.9 per 100,000.
Worst 5 NHS areas in England
- North East Essex
- North East Lincolnshire
- Castle Point and Rochford, Essex
- Redditch and Bromsgrove
- Newark and Sherwood
Labour’s Thangam Debonnaire, co-chair of the APPG, said: “Our inquiry has uncovered a concerning postcode lottery in screening uptake, early diagnosis and access to breast cancer services across England.
“This variation in NHS services can have a devastating impact on patients’ lives.”
Up to 13% of breast radiologist posts are vacant with a further 21% set to retire in the next five years.
The North East is worst hit with 33% of radiologists due to retire. Staff shortages hit waiting times and while 99% in some areas see a specialist within a fortnight of a GP referral, in others it is 71%.
Ms Debonnaire added: “The demographic time bomb facing the breast cancer workforce poses a worrying threat to the progress made in recent decades.
Top 5 NHS areas in England
- Tower Hamlets
- Greater Huddersfield
- Hardwcick, Derbyshire
- City and Hackney
“Local workforce planning coupled with national action and funding is needed urgently. While such inequalities exist we cannot hope to meet the Government’s ambition of world-class outcomes for all NHS cancer patients.”
Women of 50 to 70 are invited for mammograms every three years under the NHS Breast Screening Programme and a third of cases are diagnosed this way, saving 1,300 lives a year.
But uptake fell in all areas except London in the past decade. Last year, the proportion of eligible women screened in Leicestershire was 80% while Blackpool was bottom with 55%.
The report – called A Mixed Picture: An Inquiry into Geographical Inequalities and Breast Cancer – found the disease is less common in more deprived areas but mortality rates were higher there. This was put down to earlier diagnosis in more affluent areas.
Breast Cancer Care chief Samia al Qadhi said: “It is outrageous that demographic pot-luck can determine who lives longer after breast cancer.
“The NHS must not only ensure people are diagnosed as early as possible but that everyone has access to vital information and support once treatment ends.”
NHS England said: “We are already addressing the issues raised by this report.”
Public Health Minister Steve Brine said the NHS has made huge progress and cancer survival rates are at a record high “but we know we need to go further”.
Last month, a study in the Lancet revealed Britain lags behind all other large EU nations on tackling cancer.
Survival rates at record high
Cancer survival rates are at a record high, national data reveals.
The Office for National Statistics found one and five-year survival rates have continued to creep up for 14 cancers.
One and five-year survival rates for prostate cancer were 96.3% and 88.3%, and 95.6% and 86.0% for breast cancer.
For men one-year rates for cancers of the kidney, lung and prostate increased by between 0.1% to 1.9% per year.
For women one-year rates rose from 0.2% to 3.1% for kidney cancer and from 1.0% to 2.2% for lung cancer. The largest rise in five-year rates was for myeloma blood cancer in Thames Valley at 3.5%.