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Female breast cancer survivors from deprived areas at a 35% higher risk of second cancers

A study found ‘alarming inequalities’ among women at risk for second cancers based on their socioeconomic status. Experts have called for an ‘urgent dedicated plan’ to tackle this

Female breast cancer survivors living in the most deprived areas in England have a 35% higher risk of developing second cancers, says new research by the University of Cambridge.

The study found that less well-off female survivors were more likely to develop other non-breast cancers including lung, stomach, head and neck and kidney cancer.

Isaac Allen, lead researcher from the department of public health and primary care at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘This is the biggest study ever to examine second cancers after breast cancer and the first to show that women diagnosed with breast cancer in deprived regions are more likely to get second cancers. Many cancers are caused by deprivation, but more research is clearly needed to identify the specific factors driving the higher risks and how best to reduce these inequalities.’

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Researchers at the University analysed NHS data from almost 600,000 patients in England and found, compared with the general female population, women who had survived breast cancer had an increased risk of developing 12 other primary cancers.

Among these women, the female survivors of breast cancer from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds had a 166% greater chance of developing lung cancer, a 78% higher risk of stomach cancer and more than 50% increased risk of bladder and oesophagus cancers.

The researchers suggest this could be because risk factors such as smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption are more common among more deprived groups. Females from the most deprived communities may also not be aware of symptoms of other cancers and may find it difficult to seek help or put off doing so until the disease reaches a crisis point.

Responding to the findings, Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist and co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said: ‘This highlights yet another instance of alarming inequalities within cancer, underscoring the urgent need for a dedicated cancer plan. Where one comes from or their socioeconomic status should not determine the chances of developing or surviving cancer.’

While this is the first study to look at the impact of socioeconomic status on female cancer rates, researchers have called for larger trials to look at the ‘deprivation-associated cancer risk factors, particularly in male and female non-white breast cancer survivors’.