Project details

Researcher: Dr Robert Kerrison

Location: University of Surrey

Project cost: £150,395

The challenge

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. The earlier someone is diagnosed and the sooner they start treatment, the more likely they are to survive.

But there are groups of people who are less likely to be diagnosed and start treatment early. For example, women with severe mental illnesses, women with learning disabilities, women who experience deprivation, women from ethnic minorities and patients who have changed gender.  

We know that these groups of people experienced inequalities before the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’re worried that things have only got worse. That’s why we want to better understand these inequalities, and find ways to address them.

“How someone is diagnosed with breast cancer is an important factor in their survival. Whether that’s following a screening appointment, after noticing changes and talking to a GP, or at a visit to A&E. How long someone waits to be diagnosed and treated is also very important. Understanding how these factors are subject to inequalities may help us to diagnose and treat more people earlier, and thereby improve breast cancer outcomes.’’ – Dr Robert Kerrison

The science behind the project

Dr Robert Kerrison of the University of Surrey is investigating inequalities in the way people are diagnosed, and how long they have to wait for their diagnosis and treatment. He wants to understand whether these inequalities have got worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s keen to understand how these groups of people have been affected:

  • Women from ethnic minorities
  • Women experiencing deprivation
  • Women with a learning disability
  • Women with severe mental illness
  • Patients who have changed gender

Robert will be collecting anonymous information about people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, from these groups, from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink and Cancer Registry. These 2 sources hold anonymous data from a network of GP practices across the UK and cancer data from hospitals.

Robert will focus on how the person was diagnosed with breast cancer, how long they waited to be seen at the hospital, and how long they waited to start treatment. He’ll compare the information from before and after 31 March 2020 to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inequalities in breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

Highlighting the different experiences of marginalised people with breast cancer could help improve their health and wellbeing. It’ll allow researchers, clinicians, and policy makers to tailor programmes and interventions toward people who need them most.

How many people could this project help?

Every year in the UK, around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 11,500 people die from the disease. This research will hopefully be able to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer.