Health atlas allows online search of risk by area
A new health “atlas” has for the first time revealed extraordinary patterns in disease across the country.
The series of high resolution maps covering England and Wales show striking variations in the risk of cancer and other diseases in different areas.
Lung cancer is far more common in the North West and North East of England than in mid-Wales and the South West.
And Leukaemia rates are higher in rural areas, with pockets of cases across South Wales, Somerset and Dorset.
The online tool (www.envhealthatlas.co.uk), published by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London, also maps air quality, levels of sunshine and pesticides, and chlorine by-products in the water supply.
Users can enter their postcode to assess the disease and environmental risks in their neighbourhood.
Researchers will also be able to investigate whether there are links between pollutants and health.
Dr Anna Hansell, lead author of the atlas, told Sky News: “Ideally if we could measure things on every single person in the country we would do that, but we can’t.
“By getting to something closer to where people live and work then we hope to understand a bit more about their exposures and how that might relate to health.”
The atlas also reveals that skin cancer is most common in the South West of England.
Yet it’s the southeast that gets the most sunshine and researchers will now study whether other lifestyle factors may account for the higher risk in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.
Most striking of all is liver cancer, with a dense cluster of cases across Cheshire and Merseyside.
Dr Martin Lambord, a consultant liver specialist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said it could be put down to higher alcohol intake, the prevalence of hepatitis or obesity, or a combination of all these things.
He said the maps could be useful for people to make them aware of the issues they face.
“For the current generation it’s about ‘could I be at risk of liver disease?'” he said. “Have I put myself at risk of liver disease? Should I see my doctor and have a test?
“I think increasing awareness is important. Once patients are identified as having liver disease or diagnosed to have cirrhosis, it’s very important to offer them early diagnosis for cancers.
“The other problem we find is it presents really late and only 5% of those cancers are curable.”