Cancer at a local level - A complex puzzle?

Since 1948, North West Cancer Research has been independently funding research and strategies designed to support those living with and beyond cancer in the North West of England and North Wales.

Tackling the challenge of cancer requires a multifaceted, localised approach that understands the unique nature of each region’s villages, towns and cities.

This is why we’ve invested over £45m in the last two decades on a wide range of innovative projects, from laboratory studies to education and outreach, aimed at ultimately creating cancer-free communities for future generations.

There’s still a long way to go, as nationally one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime and an estimated 2.89 million people in the UK were living with cancer last year.

For a regional charity such as ours, it’s important to explore the similarities and differences between the national picture of cancer prevalence and what it looks like at a local level.

This is especially pertinent for our work, as residents in the North West of England and North Wales are 25 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than in the rest of the UK.

While often considered as a singular challenge, there are actually over 220 different forms of cancer each requiring different treatments and impacting people in different ways, depending on demographics and lifestyles – all of which will mean that tackling the causes, improving care and finding cures for each community will require different approaches.

Understanding the impact of cancer on our region therefore requires a granular knowledge of the places we live and work in. We believe this can only be done by assessing communities independently to inform our allocation of resources and energy, making sure that our work is as effective as possible and that it helps those that need it most.

This is illustrated by a recent study we undertook in the Morecambe Bay area which looked at environmental, social and economic factors to find out how they affect cancer diagnosis.

By analysing a huge amount of comparable patient data, the researchers were better able to see patterns such as the correlation between potential causes and common types of cancer. Knowing this is an important step in designing new interventions to better tackle the most prevalent forms of cancer in Morecambe Bay.

Rates of cancer in Lancashire are 7% higher than the national average and overall cancer rates are broadly in line with average cancer rates across the North West. Economically, the county is the most diverse in the region and is home to both Blackpool, with some of the most deprived communities in England, and the Ribble Valley, one of the country’s wealthiest areas.

The county’s under-55s make up approximately 68 per cent of the population, with 19 per cent of the population aged over 65. Around 27 per cent of the population in Lancashire are employed in routine or manual roles, while 27 per cent have managerial, administrative, or professional occupations. Students make up 9 per cent of population, while 6 per cent of people living in the county are long term unemployed or have never worked.

Incidences of lung cancer are 9% above the national average in Lancashire, with bladder and cervical cancer rates in the county also significantly greater than the national average, at 26% and 21% respectively. The county is also challenged with high rates for head and neck cancers, which track at 19% higher than the national average. You can read more about cancer rates across the North West and how we are tackling it by clicking here to read our RegionalReport.

Lung cancer: Our Work

Lung cancer remains the third most common cancer in the UK, and whilst national rates have fallen, those within the Blackpool area have remained consistently above average.

The most common way people discover they have lung cancer is through attendance at A&E which sadly means that diagnosis is often at a late stage of the disease.

The Blackpool area has recently been selected by NHS England as one of the first sites to develop the new proposed national screening programme for lung cancer.

People thought to be at risk of lung cancer will be invited to a lung health check and some of them will be sent for a CT scan.

Our study aims to test a new method of detection for lung cancer which we hope could be used in the future as part of a screening test to improve survival rates for people with lung cancer.

This new approach is designed to pick up lung cancer earlier, maybe even before someone starts to display symptoms, allowing people to be treated sooner. Participants will be asked to provide a saliva sample in a pot.

The saliva is then tested using a hand-held infrared spectrometer to generate a ‘fingerprint’ of the saliva. Following computer analysis, it is possible to identify those participants with cancer and those who are cancer-free.

The results from this test would be compared to a CT scan performed earlier to see if this new tool is able to detect those participants with cancer. If successful, this could be used as a screening test to help easily identify those people who require referral to hospital for further investigation in order to diagnose and treat their cancer.

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