IT is a curious insight into the relationship between poverty and ill health that women living in the poorest parts of Scotland are 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women in the most affluent areas, yet 12.5% more likely to die from it.

The pattern is not new, but it is arguably not spoken about enough.

There is probably nothing that would do more to ease the strain on Scotland's NHS than closing the gap between the rich and poor. Simply put, wealth (on average) equals health.

READ MORE: Liver cancer fastest growing cause of cancer deaths in Scotland

Breast cancer is somewhat unusual in that incidence of the disease is highest among the wealthiest women.

According to figures published by ISD Scotland this week, there are 176 cases per 100,000 women in least deprived fifth of the population, compared to 158 per 100,000 in the most deprived fifth.

The statistics are adjusted for age, so that fact that the affluent middle classes live longer (thus increasing their risk of cancer) cannot explain the disparity.

The likeliest explanation, in fact, can be traced back to poverty: poorer women tend to have more children and to have them at a younger age.

As a result they skip more menstrual cycles and are less exposed over their lifetime to the tumour-linked hormone, oestrogen.

It is particularly tragic therefore that this benefit does not translate into lower mortality.

Instead, the figures show a steady increase in breast cancer deaths in line with deprivation, from 32 per 100,000 among the least deprived Scots to 36 per 100,000 for the most deprived.

The main reason is that poorer women are less likely to trouble their GP with symptoms until they are relatively advanced.

They are also 20% less likely than their wealthiest counterparts to take part in breast screening, which can detect the disease at its earliest stage.

In cancers linked to smoking, excess alcohol consumption or overeating (all coping mechanisms for stress), it is even more stark.

READ MORE: 'Huge step forward' as stem cell therapy approved as treatment for MS patients in Scotland 

The poorest Scots are nearly four times more likely to die from head and neck cancer; 38% more likely to die from pancreatic cancer; twice as likely to die from liver cancer (the fastest growing form of the disease in Scotland); and three times more likely to die from lung cancer.

Overall, cancer incidence is 32% higher among the poorest Scots - but you are 74% more likely to die of cancer in Scotland if you are poor than if you are wealthy.

As the ISD Scotland report puts it: "The effect of deprivation on the risk of dying from cancer is greater than just its effect on causing cancer."

A sustainable NHS will only be possible if funds are targeted at closing the poverty gap.