Researchers launch project to help reduce Head and Neck cancer inequalities

Senior friends standing in a field together while on staycation laughing and talking together. They are enjoying retirement together, being active in the North East of England.

A group of leading researchers are set to investigate why people living in certain parts of the country have some of the worst survival rates of Head and Neck cancers, compared with the rest of the England and Wales.

The project, jointly funded by Oracle Cancer Trust and North West Cancer Research (NWCR), is set to analyse the impact of the disease across England and Wales, focusing on how incidences have increased and the number of people surviving has dropped.

Head and Neck cancers account for around 30 different types of cancer, including the mouth, throat and voice box, with smoking and excessive alcohol intake proven to be major causes.

Experts say those living in deprived areas are more likely to develop Head and Neck cancer, creating major inequalities and differing chances of survival.

Now, Oracle Cancer Trust and North West Cancer Research want to identify why such differences exists and, crucially, what can be done to solve the problem.

Researchers based at Newcastle University will compare incidence rates across deprived areas and more affluent areas, before looking at how many people have survived the illness.

The year-long investigation, which launches in April, will ultimately see patients, health professionals and charities come together to look at what changes can be made to improve Head and Neck cancer rates in the region.

Alastair Richards, CEO of North West Cancer Research, said: “Sadly, we are already aware of the inequalities that exist when it comes to cancer, with the North West and North Wales being one of the worst affected regions in the country. This is largely due to us being home to some of the most deprived areas – this should not be the case.

“Head and Neck cancers, in particular, majorly impact the people living here. As such, it is a key focus for us as a charity, not only funding research like this, but also getting out into the community to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms, signposting people to advice and support.

“This study will help pave the way for us better understanding how we can tackle the inequalities and, hopefully, become closer to creating a cancer-free future.”

Since the early 1990s, cases of Head and Neck cancer have increased by 35% in the UK and is now the fourth most common cancer type in men.

And, since the Covid-19 pandemic, cases in deprived areas of the UK are almost double the UK national average, a trend which experts believe will continue.

As part of the project, researchers will also look into how the pandemic impacted diagnoses and treatment, focusing on whether regional inequalities are wider than before and why this has happened.

Tamara Kahn, CEO of Oracle Cancer Trust, says “As a Charity we work tirelessly to advance the fight against Head and Neck cancer and ensure that patients, their families and the medical community get as much support as possible to be beat the odds with regards to this disease.

"We want to ensure everyone has the best chance of surviving Head and Neck cancer but there are rising inequalities in the UK.  Around 2,300 cases of Head and Neck Cancers each year in England are linked with deprivation. We are delighted to be co-funding this project and awarding the grant to Newcastle University, having better access to data to be able to address this is issue vital.”