Understanding Socio-Economic Disparities in Colon Cancer Diagnosis: Insights from Hospital Emergency Admissions

Nearly a third of colon cancers, one of the most common cancers in England, are diagnosed by emergency admission, with this proportion being much higher among patients living in socio-economically deprived areas. Why do we see such disparities?

The analysis, published today in the British Journal of Cancer, included 15,263 patients diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013 who experienced at least one NHS hospital admission in the two years prior to diagnosis, comprising 74% of all colon cancer cases. Crucially, despite similar overall rates of hospitalisations, deprived patients are more likely to end up in the emergency room, especially in the months immediately prior to their cancer diagnosis. This suggests that delays in diagnosis may be more common among individuals facing socio-economic hardships.

But what’s causing these disparities? Today’s research considers several potential factors. It’s possible that more disadvantaged patients are seeking for emergency healthcare for conditions that could be treated through primary care (such as GP consultations). That said, systemic issues within the healthcare system, rather than just individual behaviours, likely also contribute to these disparities.

“Our findings suggest that more disadvantaged patients may experience barriers in getting access to primary healthcare, leading them to use emergency services more often.”

Aimilia Exarchakou, paper author

All this begs the question, what can be done to address these inequalities? ICON believes that the system must adapt to all patients’ needs, irrespective of their background, to make sure barriers to accessing primary care, timely diagnostic tests and specialised consultations are removed.

By understanding disparities between patients and taking proactive steps to mitigate them, we can work towards a healthcare system that ensures equitable access to timely and effective cancer care for all individuals, regardless of their background.

Related research – Maringe, C., Rachet, B., Lyratzopoulos, G. et al. Persistent inequalities in unplanned hospitalisation among colon cancer patients across critical phases of their care pathway