Age still biggest factor in cancer

Age remains the most important factor in cancer prevalence, according to experts.

The latest GMS prevalence data shows that while the overall prevalence of cancer as recorded on quality registers in the UK has increased, from an average of 0.52 per cent in 2004/5 to 0.78 per cent for 2005/6, the pattern of cancer prevalence remains unchanged.

Major cities such as London, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham were found to have low levels of cancer prevalence, with the lowest prevalence in the UK found in north-east London.

Ruth Yates, head of statistical information at Cancer Research UK, said that fewer cases of cancer are identified in the major cities because of the younger population found in cities. Young people are moving away from rural areas and are drawn to major urban areas, she said.

‘As cancer risk increases with increasing age, a population with a higher proportion of older people will have a higher incidence and prevalence of cancer.’

This is the most likely explanation for lower prevalence in urban areas, she said.

The most prevalent cancer areas in the UK were found throughout Wales (excluding Cardiff, Swansea and Newport), the Scottish borders and in Dorset and Somerset. These areas are popular retirement spots and contain a high proportion of elderly people.

But Somerset GP Dr Greg Tanner, Macmillan GP adviser and cancer lead in the Somerset area, said he had not noticed a larger number of cancer patients at his practice.

‘Maybe the incidence of cancer is higher in south-west  England because of the sunnier climate causing melanomas,’ he said.

However, the data needs to be broken down into age and cancer type before any conclusions can be drawn, said Dr Tanner.

Ms Yates said that if the map were to take into account individual cancers, the prevalence of lung cancer would relate strongly to patterns of smoking. Therefore, Scotland and north east England would have the highest prevalence of lung cancer.

‘Conversely, prevalence of breast and prostate cancer would be higher in the more affluent areas, such as the south east of England,’ she said.

‘The pattern for bowel cancer would be unclear as there appears to be no geographical variation.’

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