Project details

Researcher: Professor Chris Cardwell

Location: Queen's University Belfast

Cost: £142,749

The challenge

It’s important to diagnose breast cancer and start treating it as soon as possible. This can help more people to live well with and beyond the disease. But we know that some groups of people are less likely to be diagnosed early. This leads to lower rates of survival for them.

Women in Northern Ireland may be especially at risk of experiencing these health inequalities. There are high rates of deprivation, long waiting lists for healthcare, and poorer mental health in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. We need to understand how these things can affect breast cancer diagnosis and the success of treatment.

“We’ll focus on women with selected mental health problems, women living in remote areas and women from low socio-economic backgrounds. But we’ll also look at women with disabilities, women from minority ethnic backgrounds and migrants, to find out if they also experience inequalities when it comes to breast cancer.’’ – Professor Chris Cardwell

“We will also speak to breast cancer patients to better understand how inequalities may have impacted their experience of being diagnosed with, and living with breast cancer.” – Dr Charlene McShane

The science behind the project

The team from Queen’s University Belfast will answer 5 main questions:

  • Do women with mental health problems have poorer experiences with breast cancer?
  • Do women who live further away from healthcare services have poorer experiences with breast cancer?
  • Do women from more deprived areas have poorer experiences with breast cancer?
  • Do women with disabilities, from ethnic minority groups or migrants have poorer experiences with breast cancer?
  • How do these health inequalities impact the experience of having breast cancer in Northern Ireland?

To answer these questions, they’ll use data from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) on 15,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer between 2011 and 2021. NICR will provide detailed information on how advanced the cancer is at diagnosis (stage), the person’s route to diagnosis, what treatment they received and how long they have survived.  To identify inequalities, the researchers will look at multiple data sources including prescribing data, hospital admissions and responses to Northern Ireland census questions.

Their data analysis will look at what stage the cancer was diagnosed at, how it was diagnosed, what treatments patients received, and how many people died up to 12 years following their diagnosis.

They’ll also carry out a survey and interview people with breast cancer to hear their personal experiences of inequalities in Northern Ireland.

What difference will this project make?

The team’s research will find out if different groups of women in Northern Ireland experience inequalities in breast cancer. And how their diagnosis, treatment and outcomes are affected by these inequalities. Understanding which groups of women experience the greatest health inequalities will help researchers focus on finding the best ways to address these inequalities.

How many people could this project help?

Around 1,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Northern Ireland. But this research may also benefit women outside of Northern Ireland too. Especially people who have mental health problems, a disability, a low socio-economic status, or live further away from healthcare services.