A new breast cancer report has revealed a widening disparity in survival between women living in metropolitan and rural areas.
The study by Cancer Council NSW, in collaboration with Professor Nehmat Houssami of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, investigated the survival of New South Wales women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1987 and 2007.
“What we found was that the women living in rural areas compared to those in urban areas had a 20-30 per cent higher risk of dying in the five years following a breast cancer diagnosis,” says Professor Houssami.
“It is disappointing to see that inequality in survival – particularly as it has become more marked in recent time periods.”
However, Dr Houssami was keen to point out that survival rates in both groups were improving.
“Overall, women are doing better, but those in rural areas are still not doing quite as well as their counterparts in major cities.”
She said that while studies of this type were designed to identify a situation, rather than calculate the root cause, it was possible to speculate.
“It may relate to women living further away from specialised cancer services, so they may have less access,” she says.
“Or it may be that the women are offered appropriate treatment and testing but because they have to travel distances for them, they’re opting for less intensive treatment.”
Professor Dianne O’Connell, a researcher on the paper, is optimistic about the outcomes that can be achieved thanks to a study like this.
“One of Cancer Council NSW’s research priorities is to continue monitoring the disparity of breast cancer survival in rural vs city populations,” says Prof O’Connell.
“We’ll then provide updated results regularly to ensure that planning for interventions to reduce such disparities is guided by appropriate evidence.”
Her advice to people based in rural areas is to heed the research, and take advantage of every available resource.
“It’s important that they are aware and informed of the symptoms of breast cancer and the importance of screening for early detection, their treatment options and the information and support available,” she says.
“We encourage people to look into the support services Cancer Council can offer, including transport to treatment, low cost accommodation while undergoing treatment and access to up-to-date, evidence based information at any time through calling our 13 11 20 Information and Support Line.”
The New Daily is a proud partner of the Mother’s Day Classic, a fun run and walk, which raises funds for breast cancer research. It will take place on May 10. Visit the website to register online before the event.