Putting our region's cancer needs first

CEO's Blog Summer 2022

The latest charity news from North West Cancer Research CEO, Alastair Richards.

NWCR CEO Alastair Richards

Highs and Lows

July saw the publication of our third Regional Report providing information on cancer in our region and in particular, the cancers which are more prevalent here than you would expect from looking at the national figures. The publication was well received in the media and there was a great deal of interest about why this is the case, what it means and what we can do about it.


For me personally, it created the opportunity to appear on the BBC North West Politics Show – a new experience and one I rather enjoyed. It was a good opportunity to showcase the work of the charity and also to do a lot of cleaning to make sure that everything that would be visible had been dusted.


The answers as to why cancer cases and mortality are higher in our region are both simple and complex.  For some cancer types, such as mesothelioma we can point to a single factor and know that exposure to it significantly increases our risk. But in the majority of cases, the reasons aren’t so clear cut. We know that there are genetic risks – genes that individuals have which make you more or less likely to develop cancer. However, to these are then added all of the many and various factors around wealth, poverty, lifestyle and the environment. How these factors inter-play with each other is complex and will be different for each individual.


All these factors impinge upon our cancer risk but the impact that cancer has on our life will often depend on how early we recognise the symptoms and get the right medical attention for them. This is a critical factor in treatment and sadly also in mortality.


One startling statistic was highlighted to me recently and it concerned the contrasting cancer picture in Kendal and Barrow in South Cumbria. Those of you who have been on holiday to the Lake District will recognise that these two towns are relatively close together. Separated by just 24-miles, a car journey from Kendal to Barrow will take around 45-minutes on the winding rural road.


Kendal, famous for its mint cake, ranks highest in Cumbria for the proportion of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 with 57.1% of cancers being diagnosed early. Barrow with its ship-building and heavy industrial prowess ranks lowest in the county with 45% of cancers diagnosed at the same stage. How early cancers are discovered makes an enormous difference to the treatments given and ultimately the chances of surviving 5-years or more.


For us, as North West Cancer Research, we need to understand these highs and lows. In this case just 24-miles makes an enormous difference to the likelihood that people will be able to access the right medical treatment at the right time. Our role is to provide information and to work with other agencies to ensure that people know what symptoms to look for, when, how to report that and how to get the best treatment for it.


It is an immense challenge but if we can give everyone the same information and opportunities then we will have gone a long distance towards tackling cancer in our region.