Black and Asian people in England wait longer for cancer diagnosis

Health leaders call the race disparity in treatment "deeply concerning"

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New analysis of National Health Service data shows black and Asian people in England have to wait longer for a cancer diagnosis than white people.

A joint review by the University of Exeter and The Guardian of 126,000 cancer cases between 2006 and 2016 found that it took an average of 55 days for a white person first presenting symptoms to a GP to receive a diagnosis.

However, for Asian people it took 60 days, or 9 per cent longer, and for black people diagnosis took 61 days, or 11 per cent longer.

Medical professionals and cancer charities advise early diagnosis and timely treatment provide the best possible outcomes for those with cancer.

The study looked at primary care-linked data of patients with seven types of cancers and found that there are significant differences between some of the wait times for specific cancers.

The median time for white people to receive a diagnosis for oesophagogastric — stomach — cancer is 53 days, while for Asian people it is more than six weeks longer at 100 days.

On average, black people had to wait 127 days for a diagnosis for myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, which is more than a month longer than the 93 days median time for white people.

The study’s authors found that in five out of seven cancers studied minority groups experienced a longer time to diagnosis when compared with the white group.

The findings “help explain” why ethnic minorities “have poorer outcomes for some cancers, and report worse experiences of health care”, said the University of Exeter researcher, Tanimola Martins.

“We urgently need to understand why this is the case for black and Asian groups," she said.

Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, warned earlier this year that more must be done to tackle smoking and obesity rates among people from ethnic minority groups to prevent a surge in preventable cancer cases.

The charity's chief executive Michelle Mitchell said that while the differences were “unlikely to be the sole explanation for the inequalities in cancer survival”, at the very least “extended wait times may cause additional stress and anxiety for ethnic minority patients”.

A report published in the British Journal of Cancer in March found that white people in England are more than twice as likely to get some types of cancer, including melanoma skin cancer, oesophageal, bladder and lung cancers, compared with people from black, Asian or mixed ethnic backgrounds.

Meanwhile, black people are more likely to have stomach and liver cancers and are almost three times more likely than white people to get myeloma.

Head of Breast Cancer Now Delyth Morgan said it was "deeply concerning" that black women were more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced breast cancer, for which survival outcomes are poorer. She added that "we urgently need to understand why this is the case".

CRUK's Ms Mitchel said the next prime minister "needed to make cancer a priority".

The government has previously said it was committed to “levelling up health outcomes” across the UK with a 10-year cancer plan.

Updated: August 29, 2022, 10:18 AM