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More women die from breast cancer in deprived areas of Norfolk and Waveney

File photo of a consultant analysing a mammogram. Photo credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

File photo of a consultant analysing a mammogram. Photo credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

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More women die from breast cancer in more deprived areas of Norfolk and Waveney than those living in more affluent areas.

Figures showed the stark differences as a national, cross-party report exposed the scale of the postcode lottery in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and care across England.

The report showed that, depending on where they live, some women were more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer under the age of 75.

Around 900 people a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in Norfolk and Waveney and on average 230 will die every year.

And although more women were surviving the disease than ever before screening, early detection, and access to treatment and services differed across the country.

The east of England was found to be the best region for screening and early diagnosis, said Samantha Nicklin, assistant director of policy and campaigns at charity Breast Cancer Now.

The two factors were identified as key when improving survival rates.

But four out of five Norfolk and Waveney areas performed significantly worse than those similar to them demographically in one-year survival rates.

West Norfolk had the best outcome, with 96.9pc of people surviving for a year - the area also had the highest proportion of early stage diagnosis.

Nikki Morris, deputy chief executive of the Big C. Photo: Big CNikki Morris, deputy chief executive of the Big C. Photo: Big C

But while the best survival rates were seen in Tower Hamlets in London - with just 13.3 people per 100,000 dying from breast cancer before they turned 75 - in two of our region’s areas this more than doubled.

In Great Yarmouth and Waveney 27.4 people per 100,000 died, while in south Norfolk the figure was 27.2.

The national average was 19.8.

Ms Nicklin, whose charity helped produce the new report, said other factors could contribute to higher mortality rates.

She said: “Each area had variations, the age of an area for example, breast cancer is a disease which tends to have a higher mortality in an elderly population. But specifically access to services, rural areas sometimes fair worse because patients have to travel further to get to their GP or hospital.

“What Breast Cancer Now would like to see is the East of England Cancer Alliance working with clinical commissioning groups to understand the needs of the local population to see where they can improve access.”

This call to work together was echoed by Nikki Morris, deputy chief executive at Norfolk and Waveney cancer charity Big C, who was also involved in the report released last month.

And under the region’s healthcare overhaul - know as the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) - there are plans to address variations as well as improve breast cancer care.

Jennie Roberts, from North Tuddenham. Photo: Jennie RobertsJennie Roberts, from North Tuddenham. Photo: Jennie Roberts

Already £1.3m had been secured and amongst other initiatives would speed up diagnoses.

Ms Morris said national findings showed breast cancer was less common among women living in more deprived areas, but mortality rates were higher.

She said this was reflected in our region and could be caused by anything from being able to travel by public transport, or having to take time off work and potentially losing wages.

There was also an issue over awareness of when to visit a doctor and gaps in the breast cancer workforce.

She said: “We have many areas where they are continuing to improve but we also have areas where we’re not. For whatever reason [patients] can’t get to or do not have access to the services on offer.”

Jennie Roberts, from North Tuddenham, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer - which had spread into her lymph nodes - last year after returning from a holiday in Cyprus. She underwent two operations, various scans, and last week finished six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

Ms Roberts, 64, said although anyone in her situation would want treatment as quickly as possible, she could not fault the process.

She said: “The first thing when I found out it was aggressive, I wanted to get the operation over and done with. I just wanted it out of my body. But you have to go through the process.”

She urged others to go for breast screenings, even if it meant travelling.

“People will find excuses for anything, sometimes because they’re scared,” she said. “Anyone who does not go for breast screening is a fool in my opinion.”

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, added: “As a local patient representative we want to see the same standards of treatment and care for all patients across Norfolk and Waveney. There is clearly more to be done in terms of prevention and it’s our understanding that plans for cancer services under the region’s STP will seek to address issues around postcode lottery. We will be watching these plans very closely to ensure this takes place.”

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