Cancer sufferers whose homes are more than an hour from their nearest major hospital get quicker treatment but have poorer survival rates, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen, who carried out the study, have described the findings, published in the British Journal of Cancer, as a “cancer geography paradox”.
The study – which is understood to be the first to examine the impact of burden of travel on the cancer diagnostic process –found people with cancer who live more than an hour from their nearest major hospital are diagnosed and treated faster than those who live closer.
But it also revealed faster treatment did not translate into better survival rates, with those living more than an hour away or in the islands being signi-ficantly more likely to die in the first year after treatment than those living closer by.
The team analysed data from more than 12,000 patients from across the North, North-east and the Northern Isles.
They found those who lived in the Northern Isles were 32% more likely to start treatment within 62 days of their GP’s referral, com-pared to those living within 15 minutes of their treatment centre.
Those from the mainland living more than an hour’s travel from their cancer treatment centre were 42% more likely to start treatment within 62 days of their GP referral than those who lived within 15 minutes away.
They also found people living in the Northern Isles were 72% more likely to have their diagnosis and treatment started on the same day compared to those who lived within 15 minutes of their cancer treatment centres.
Dr Peter Murchie, clinical consultant at the University of Aberdeen, said: “These contradictory findings on time to diagnosis and mortality are perplexing to say the least. The findings suggest what happens to patients after their diagnosis may be much more important.
“It could be that living in rural areas where you have to travel further to receive treatment might limit treatment choices once a diagnosis has been made.”