A new study by north-east academics has found that cancer patients living in rural areas around the world are less likely to survive than those living in cities.
The “stark” findings by Aberdeen University came from a review of 39 studies and it is the first time such a global review has taken place.
In 30 of the 39 studies there was a clear ‘survival disadvantage’ for rural people compared to their urban counterparts – with rural dwellers being 5% less likely to survive cancer.
A previous study by the Aberdeen team found that people in the north-east of Scotland who live more than an hour away from a cancer treatment centre are more likely to die within the first year after their diagnosis than those who live closer.
The lead investigator, Dr Peter Murchie, a GP and primary care cancer university expert said: “Our 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 5 % 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.”
Dr Murchie estimates that around 20% of the global population lives rurally and said Scottish Government figures show that 1 in 5 Scots live rurally.
The paper outlines a number of reasons specific to country dwellers that could contribute to this discrepancy.
For example, rural patients may delay in seeking help until their symptoms seem more serious that those living in cities, due to the nature of their work or family commitments.
Transport infrastructure and the proximity of health centres is also understood to be a factor – with most services in developed countries centralised in urban areas, it can be more time-consuming and expensive for rural people to travel for treatment.
This may act as a deterrent and lead to people being less likely to seek initial treatment, or more likely to miss appointments.