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Blacks and Asians in England are waiting longer for a cancer diagnosis than whites, with some being forced to wait an extra six weeks, according to a “disturbing” analysis of NHS wait times.
A damning review of the world’s largest primary care database by the University of Exeter and the Guardian found that ethnic minority patients wait longer than white patients for six out of seven cancer types studied. Breed and health leaders have called the findings “deeply concerning” and “absolutely unacceptable”.
Analysis of 126,000 cancer cases over a decade found that the median time between a white person showing symptoms for the first time at a primary care physician and diagnosis is 55 days. For Asians, it’s 60 days (9% longer). For blacks it is 61 days (11% longer).
Delays in diagnosis can mean fewer treatment options, while starting treatment later can also mean it’s less effective – reducing the chances of survival. Previous research has shown that for some cancers in England, ethnic minority patients have poorer outcomes and are less likely to report positive healthcare experiences.
Some of the differences in waiting times for certain types of cancer are incredibly stark. The median time for white people to receive a diagnosis of esophageal cancer — of the stomach or esophagus — is 53 days. For Asians, it’s 100 days, more than six weeks longer than the median wait of seven weeks for whites.
For myeloma, the third most common blood cancer, the mean waiting time for white people to be diagnosed is 93 days. For blacks, it’s 127 days—more than a month longer.
The Government and the NHS have repeatedly pledged to tackle ethnic inequalities in healthcare. Experts say the findings show serious action is needed to understand how and why Blacks and Asians are waiting longer — and to stop it.
“These findings are deeply concerning and have potentially life-changing health implications for Black and Asian people,” said Jabeer Butt, executive director of the Race Equality Foundation.
The differences are “disturbing” but “unfortunately not surprising,” he added. “We urgently need to address these underlying factors that are preventing Black and Asian patients from getting a fair chance in the fight against cancer.”
The University of Exeter studied 126,000 cancer cases in England between 2006 and 2016. The data included the four most common cancers – lung, breast, prostate and colon – and three cancers commonly diagnosed in ethnic minorities: esophageal cancer, myeloma and ovarian cancer.
The findings “help explain” why ethnic minorities “have worse outcomes for some types of cancer and report poorer healthcare experiences,” said University of Exeter researcher Tanimola Martins. “We urgently need to understand why this is happening with Black and Asian groups.”
Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, said that while the disparities are “unlikely the only explanation for the inequalities in cancer survival”, at least “extended waiting times can cause additional stress and anxiety in patients”. ethnic minorities”.
A review of the data by the Guardian found that black or Asian patients waited longer to be diagnosed than white patients for six of the seven cancer types analyzed. The exception was lung cancer, for which the median waiting time was 103 days for black patients, 115 days for Asian patients, and 129 days for white patients.
The median wait time for myeloma diagnosis was 37% longer among blacks than whites, the Guardian also found. dr Sophie Castell, Managing Director of Myeloma UK, said myeloma patients in general, and black patients in particular, are the longest-waiting patients in the country to be diagnosed. Inequality is likely to worsen as a result of the pandemic, she added.
“The longer the diagnosis lasts, the more likely patients are to suffer preventable but irreversible, lifelong complications such as broken bones and spinal fractures,” she added. “This is absolutely unacceptable. Everyone deserves an equal chance to get a timely diagnosis and live well for as long as possible.”
In the case of breast cancer, the difference in waiting times for diagnosis becomes even greater for the patients who wait the longest. Overall, the median wait time was 13 days for White patients, 13 for Asian patients, and 14 for Black patients. The gap between black and white patients is growing alarmingly among the 10% of patients who wait the longest.
The median for white patients who wait the longest is 41 days, for Asian patients 56, and for black patients 73. This means that black patients who wait the longest for a breast cancer diagnosis wait a full month longer than white patients Women who also have to wait .
Delyth Morgan, executive director of Breast Cancer Now, said black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, which has a worse chance of surviving.
She said: “It is deeply concerning that this data suggests that Black and Asian women may also wait longer than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer after showing symptoms, and we urgently need to understand why this is the case.”
The revelations follow a series of Guardian stories revealing huge health disparities in England and the UK. Mitchell said that “more needs to be done now” to “understand and address the root causes of inequality.”
“For this to happen our next Prime Minister must make cancer a priority. Crucially, they must take targeted action to address inequalities and ensure an important timely diagnosis for all.”