Cancer's lethal toll in Scotland's central belt

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Key points

• Mortality rates for cancers 30% higher in central belt than rest of UK

• Glasgow is worst area: cancer mortality rates for men 50% higher

• Scotland as a whole has 15% higher mortality rate than England and Ireland

Key quote

"Places do not get cancer - people do. The reason areas have high rates of cancer is that people in them are exposed to the relative risks for those cancers" - Mike Quinn, of the Office of National Statistics

Story in full A CANCER map of the UK shows a strip across the central belt of Scotland where social deprivation has led to the highest levels of the disease in the country.

Lung, larynx, lip, mouth and throat cancers are worse in deprived areas because of smoking and alcohol, while rates of cervical cancer are also higher in poorer areas largely because of higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Overall, both the incidence and mortality rate of cancer in Scotland were 15 per cent above the UK and Ireland average, according to the figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Doctors said the map highlights the number of lives that could be saved by improved public health, after the ONS admitted that more than 25,000 cancers and 17,000 deaths could be prevented by helping smokers quit and drinkers cut down on alcohol.

But the Scottish Executive insisted public health measures, including the ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, were already helping to shake off the country's tag as the "sick man of Europe".

In the first attempt to map cancer across the nation, bands of yellow showed rates of mortality for both men and women for all cancers were up to 30 per cent higher across Scotland's Central Belt than the national average. In Greater Glasgow, the mortality rate for men was up to 50 per cent higher.

The ONS looked at the 21 most common types of cancer in the UK over the 1990s. Lung cancer, the cancer which kills the most men in the UK, with 27,000 new cases recorded each year and 24,300 deaths, was most common in Scotland. The incidence rate for men is 34 per cent higher than the national average and 48 per cent higher for women.

Lip, mouth and larynx cancers, also caused by smoking, were all higher in the industrialised areas of northern Britain and Scotland's central belt. But the same cancers killed fewer than average numbers in the south and English Midlands. Rates for deaths and new cases were generally three times higher in the most deprived areas than the most affluent.

Mike Quinn, one of the authors of the "cancer atlas", said social deprivation led to higher prevalence of smoking and drinking, which in turn led to higher rates of cancer. "Places do not get cancer - people do. The reason areas have high rates of cancer is that people in them are exposed to the relative risks for those cancers," he said.

Both gullet and stomach cancer, which are caused by smoking and bad diet, were noticeably higher in northern England and Scotland.

The map also revealed large-scale variations in the incidence of cervical cancer, with much higher than average rates in the urban West Midlands, in a band across the north of England and parts of Scotland.

Cervical cancer is directly related to sexual activity, since it is triggered by a sexually transmitted virus. Mr Quinn said cervical cancer was likely to be higher in deprived areas, where women begin sexual activity at a younger age, have a higher number of sexual partners and are subjected to more sexually transmitted diseases.

However, breast cancer, the cancer which kills the most women in the UK, with 38,900 new cases and 14,600 deaths each year, had a higher incidence in affluent areas.

Mr Quinn said this could be because richer women choose to have children later or not at all, which has been linked to higher rates of breast cancer. The disease has also been linked to a diet of richer foods.

Dr Lesley Walker, the director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said that if every part of the UK had the same incidence and mortality rates as the healthiest areas, 25,580 cases and 17,450 deaths could be avoided. She urged the government to put resources towards smoking-cessation services and controlling drinking.

But a Scottish Executive spokesman said: "The health of the country, and the health of Glaswegians in particular, will improve radically as a result of smoke-free public places."