Rural residents 5% less likely to survive cancer than those in cities

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Cancer patients living in rural areas are less likely to survive the illness than those who live in cities, researchers have discovered.

An analysis of 39 studies from across the globe found that rural residents are 5% less likely to survive cancer than those living in more urban environments, with a clear “survival disadvantage” identified in 30 of the studies.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen suggested a number of reasons why the survival rate was usually lower for rural dwellers, including rural patients being more likely to delay seeking treatment due to the nature of their work or family commitments, and poor transport infrastructure making it more time-consuming and costly to visit health centres (which are usually centralised in urban areas), resulting in missed appointments.

According to the Scottish Government, one in five people in the country live in a rural area. The proportion is around the same for the global population, suggesting that many people may find it difficult to access healthcare services because of their location.

Professor Peter Murchie, a GP and primary care cancer expert from the University of Aberdeen, said: “A previous study showed the inequality faced by rural cancer dwellers in north-east Scotland and we wanted to see if this was replicated in other parts of the world.

“We found that it is indeed the case and we think the statistic, that if you have cancer and live rurally anywhere in the world, you are five per cent less likely to survive it, is quite stark.

“The task now is to analyse why this is the case and what can be done to close this inequality gap. In this paper we have considered some of the potential reasons but these must really be analysed in closer detail. The advancement of digital communications is producing new solutions but with more research it should be possible to identify other factors that contribute to this divide.”

Last year a survey of 2,000 people by Bupa found that confusion over the symptoms of common cancers meant many people could be delaying their diagnosis. Four in 10 people were unsure what to look for when checking for common cancers such as breast, bowel and skin cancer and 38% had never checked themselves.

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